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Monday, December 21, 2020
Has anything changed in Peterborough since last year’s opioid summit?
On July 11, 2019, Peterborough’s Mayor Diane Therrien and Selwyn Township Deputy Mayor Sherry Senis hosted an open town-hall meeting at Market Hall on the opioid crisis.
The Examiner reported on the same day (Grateful to be alive, ex-addict says overdose was wake-up call, July 12) that this meeting, billed as a summit on Peterborough’s opioid crisis, was attended by many politicians: Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, MP Maryam Monsef, MPPs Dave Smith, Michael Tibollo and Dave Piccini, almost all of Peterborough’s city councillors and Oshawa’s Mayor, Dan Carter.
According to the Examiner, Dave Smith said, "I'm going to take a lot of political heat, being a Conservative and standing behind Peterborough's application for a safe-consumption centre," he said. "But this is not partisan. Every single person who overdosed and died was someone's child."
I was at Market Hall for that summit; I heard Smith speak. His words seemed heartfelt. This didn’t seem to be just another throwaway line of political theatre.
There was a palpable sense of momentum coming out of that summit. Everyone knew the severity of Peterborough’s opioid problem. Up until July 11 of last year, 19 people had died. A total of 30 people were suspected to have died from overdoses in 2019. So far this year, close to 25 people are believed to have died due to overdoses. We are only a few weeks into the second half of the year. The urgency of this problem is still huge. But what has happened to our political will? Where is that safe-consumption site that Smith said was so desperately needed?
What can researchers tell us about safe consumption sites? Do they work? In a July 9 Examiner article (Too little action on overdoses, say Peterborough safe consumption advocates), Donna Rogers, director of Fourcast, a community addiction treatment agency, said: “safe consumption sites across the country have been shown to be able to save lives when people use them to inject drugs.”
But fear can quash research findings. A petition has been set up to convince MPP Smith to push for a ban on safe consumption sites in Peterborough. In the same Examiner article of July 9, petition organizer Mackenzie Darrington says: “A safe injection site will bring more people into Peterborough with addictions, ultimately adding to the amount of drug users in the city.” But this fear is not supported by research.
Education is key to understanding, and understanding leads to attitude change. A week after last year’s summit at Market Hall, I hosted a panel discussion on Trent Radio with Salvaterra, Deputy Chief Tim Farquharson, Coun. Kemi Akapo, Alex Bierk and Andrew. Alex and Andrew both have lived experience of opioid use. This panel discussion is available online as two podcast episodes; these episodes could be useful for those who did not attend the summit last July. To listen to this discussion, divided into two 25-minute segments, go to: www.pintsandpolitics/ptbopodcasters.ca.
There are other steps we could take as a community. Opioid abuse is an illness; we could start by reducing the stigma that is dumped on users. A few local doctors could administer a safe supply so that opioid users would at least know what they are putting into their bodies. The hours of the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) Clinic could be extended to the times when people are more likely to need help.
I continue to be grateful that these five panellists took the time to have this discussion last July. I continue to be dumbfounded that their message is just as relevant today as it was 12 months ago. What will change in the next year? Or will Peterborough celebrate this grim anniversary every July?