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CMHA calls on province to advance on overdose prevention

February 9, 2024

(Toronto, Feb 9, 2024) – In the wake of the latest overdose surge in Belleville, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario is calling on the province to move forward with approving more consumption and treatment service sites.

Ontario is facing a rise in toxic drug poisonings, with an increase in emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Belleville is the latest in a string of cities which have issued warnings about the unregulated drug supply, with the city experiencing 23 overdoses in just two days.

Consumption and treatment services sites are health services that provide a hygienic environment for people to consume substances under the supervision of health care professionals. These services also connect clients with health and social services, including substance use treatment, when they are ready.

“We are deeply concerned by the recent drug poisonings across the province and the impact on our communities,” said Camille Quenneville, CEO, CMHA Ontario. “Low-barrier services like consumption and treatment service sites are a crucial first step in saving lives.”

The number of people dying of drug poisonings has increased rapidly in the last decade, with more than 3,000 preventable deaths in Ontario in 2023 alone. An increasingly toxic unregulated drug supply, barriers to accessing harm reduction services during the pandemic, and stigma and criminalization related to substance use have all contributed to the increase in harms.

“This public health crisis did not arise overnight and will require a collaborative, integrated response to support those at risk,” said Quenneville. “This includes increased funding for low-barrier, easily accessible addiction treatment like rapid access addiction medicine clinics.”

A holistic response to the crisis will require collaboration among municipalities, first responders, emergency services and the community mental health and addictions sector. Along with expanding the availability of harm reduction services, CMHA Ontario recommends the province support a safer supply approach to reduce the risk of overdose by the unregulated drug supply.

“Safer supply is a public health approach which provides those at risk with a safer medical alternative from a licensed prescriber,” said Quenneville. “These programs also aim to connect individuals with health and psychosocial services.”

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