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Sudbury nurses call for safe consumption sites

Sudbury Star

They say Sudbury needs to tackle growing addiction problem

A safe consumption site. Gavin Young / Postmedia

Safe consumption sites remain a misunderstood and controversial topic of discussion in Sudbury. But with unsanctioned injection sites popping up around the city, dirty needles turning up in bathrooms and walking paths, and a growing number of overdose deaths, it’s a discussion that needs to be had, nurses in the city say.

Maria Casas is a political action executive network officer for the Sudbury and District Chapter of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. In a letter to The Sudbury Star, she says that it’s time to address the drug addiction epidemic in the community.

“Many citizens believe that providing a safe consumption site will encourage drug use and increase addictions,” she says, addressing a commonly raised concern. “There is little evidence to support this.”

Casas describes safe consumption sites as a place where users can access clean conditions and equipment, like needles, which can reduce infections.

These sites do not provide drugs to people. A person brings their own and after they take it, they are supervised to prevent any medical emergency.

The sites are typically staffed by nurses and other health care professionals, meaning there is immediate access to care, which can reduce deaths related to overdoses.

She points to London, Ont., where a temporary opioid overdose prevention service was opened in 2018. Since it was established, she says, “there have been no recorded deaths due to overdose in that community.”

Safe consumption sites also provide access to services and aid that users may not otherwise have access to. “In addition to supervision,” she says, “treatment includes intervention, education, primary care, counselling, and referrals to drug treatment programs, housing and other social services.”

She also says that having a safe consumption site can help the community. “The other potential benefit of having such a service is to ensure that used needles are discarded properly and safely, rather than dropped and left on the ground.”

In Sudbury, opioid addiction is a growing problem.

“The Sudbury & District Public Health Unit reports that there have been, on average, 34 opioid-related deaths every year over the past 13 years in the Sudbury area,” says Casas.

People who misuse substances come from all walks of life, and it can impact anyone.

“The causes of addiction are often complex and multi-factorial,” says Casas, “Despite what many believe, those using unprescribed opioids are dealing with many issues that can include mental illness, homelessness, poverty, and trauma.”

She says the addiction epidemic has grown to such an extent that it rivals influenza and pneumonia as a leading cause of death. “It’s time we take action, implementing an overdose prevention service as part of a multi-pronged plan to fight this disease.”

The Community Drug Strategy (CDS) is currently conducting a community study to better understand the need and potential of safe injection services in Sudbury.

The study, called the Needs Assessment and Feasibility Study (NAFS), will include interviews with people who inject drugs, focus groups, and a community online survey.

The process to apply to operate consumption and treatment services in Ontario is lengthy and vigorous. The findings of the study will allow the CDS to decide whether to proceed with an application for supervised consumption services in Sudbury.

“The findings will be used to determine the degree of need for supervised consumption services, as well as the ideal conditions under which services could operate in Greater Sudbury. It is an essential step in applying for a federal exemption to operate these services,” said Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen.

“We are asking our community to share their thoughts about supervised consumption services to be able to make informed decisions that will help the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Dr. Ariella Zbar, Associate Medical Officer of Health, Public Health Sudbury & Districts.

The Community Drug Strategy also says it will continue to engage in preventative strategies such as educating and raising awareness about the harms related to substance misuse, increasing access to programs that support harm reduction practices, increasing naloxone distribution, and providing support and treatment to individuals seeking to improve their health.

The survey is available online for anyone older than 16 living in Greater Sudbury to share their thought on supervised consumption services at

Twitter: @Mia_RJensen

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