Lacey DaSilva (left), co-ordinator of the Brantford-Brant Community Drugs Strategy, Aja Peterson, project manager of Safe Brantford, and Brantford Mayor Chris Friel hold a copy of the new strategy during a forum held Monday at the Hampton Inn and Suites. (Michael-Allan Marion/The Expositor)
“We had to come up with a strategy that will work for all the citizens of our community,” the mayor said Monday at a Safe Brantford forum held at the Hampton Inn and Suites
“When we started Safe Brantford three years ago, it was really more of an idea about how we could pool our resources to keep our community safe in different ways,” Friel said.
“What we wanted to do was put together our own strategy that uses the resources of Brantford, Brant County and Six Nations. We are in southwestern Ontario and not in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas. We don’t get the same attention others do,” he said.
“If we wanted to do our own strategy, we had to be proactive in pooling our resources and getting to the heart of it.”
The launch of the drug strategy was part of a day of discussion surrounding different issues affecting the safety of city residents. Among those in attendance were city councillors, Brant MPP Dave Levac and representatives of community organizations.
The drug strategy, approved by city council, was put together by a group that includes representatives of the Brant County Health Unit, St. Leonard’s Community Services, Brantford police and city officials.
As part of its work, the group interviewed local drug users, who said using controlled substances is a way of coping with difficult situations, such as abuse and loss.
The strategy includes more than 40 recommendations, including supervised injection sites in the city, expansion of the needle exchange program, as well as making needle containers more available for safe disposal of used syringes. Also recommended are increased youth addictions counselling, public education and awareness and access to long-term counselling.
Substance use is a complex social issue that affects everyone and requires comprehensive co-ordination from all sectors of society to address, the drugs strategy says.
“With the pending cannabis legalization underway and the tragic impact of the opioid crisis, it is increasingly important to prioritize action at every level of government and within the broader community.”
Fortunately, there is now more research in the field of substance use and addiction that ever before, the document says.
There is a better understanding of the protective factors that prevent misuse and risk factors contributing to addiction and more evidence for best practices and treatment and recovery interventions. “There is a deeper understanding of the impacts of stigma and marginalization on individuals who use substances,” it continues.
“And, although much more needs to be done to shift our societal views away from judgment and prejudice, strides are being made in educating the public of the realities of substance use and encouraging compassionate and dignified treatment of all people.”
The strategy’s recommendations aim to:
. Delay or prevent substance use;
. Keep individuals safe and health while respecting their unique choices;
. Ensure individuals have access to timely adequate services and are treated with dignity and respect;
. Reframe addiction from a criminal justice issue to a public health issue.
Aja Peterson, project manager of Safe Brantford, told the gathering that, in 2016, just before she stepped into her role, a co-ordinating committee identified substance use and addiction as a priority area to focus on for 2017. With that came the recommendation to develop a drug strategy for the community.
For the strategy’s development, she said she was fortunate to collaborate with several community organizations and members, who worked together to identify actions needed to make the most impact.
“Everyone I spoke with contributed extremely candid and thoughtful feedback,” Peterson said.
“I think what stood out for me the most was that everyone highlighted the need for co-ordinated community action – and really emphasized the need to iron out complicated systems and to work better together.
“And, perhaps, even more importantly, people highlighted the need for compassionate care when it comes to substance use and addiction, and pointed to the fact that we need more opportunities for community education and dialogue around substance use.
Lacey DaSilva is the first co-ordinator of the Brantford-Brant Community Drugs Strategy. Previously, DaSilva worked at St. Leonard’s as an intake addictions counsellor, and before that held other roles in the mental health and addictions field.
The forum heard presentations from Lindsay Sprague, co-ordinator of the Waterloo Region community drugs strategy, and Adrienne Crowder, manager of the Wellington-Guelph drug strategy.
Sprague shared some of the lessons, successes and challenges the Waterloo region team encountered in implementing its strategy. Crowder detailed what the Guelph-Wellington team has learned from its strategy, now in its 11th year.
Coun. David Neumann said he found both presentations insightful.
“The key message of both was come up with your own strategy, one that will work in your own community. And have the courage to move forward. So, we should not be afraid to take leadership in the issue.”