Officials with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) have sent a letter to the provincial government asking them to take eight actions in response to the opioid crisis within its medical region and province-wide.
The letter, sent on March 16 to Minister of Health Christine Elliot, explains there have been 245 opioid-related deaths in Simcoe and Muskoka between March 2020 and Sept. 2021. Anita Dubeau, SMDHU’s Board of Health Chair, writes that’s a 70-percent increase from the 145 deaths in the 19 months before the COVID-19 pandemic.
She added in the letter that there was a 33-percent jump in the death rate in the first nine months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.
The actions endorsed by the board are:
- Create a task force to guide the development of a provincial opioid response plan that will ensure necessary resourcing, policy change, and health and social system coordination.
- Expand access to evidence-informed harm reduction programs and practices including lifting the provincial cap of 21 supervised consumption sites (SCS), funding Urgent Public Health Needs Sites, and scaling up safer opioid supply options.
- Explore revisions to the current SCS model to address the growing trends of opioid poisoning amongst those who are using inhalation methods.
- Expand access to opioid agonist therapy for opioid use disorder through settings such as mobile outreach, primary care, and emergency departments.
- Provide a long-term financial commitment to create more affordable and supportive housing for people in need, including people with substance use disorders.
- Address the structural stigma and harms that discriminate against people who use drugs, through provincial support and advocacy to the federal government, to decriminalize personal use and possession of substances and ensure increased investments in health and social services at all levels.
- Increase investments in evidence-informed substance use prevention and mental health promotion initiatives.
- Fund a full-time position of a Drug Strategy Coordinator/Lead for the Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy.
“Despite regional activities in response to the opioid crisis, there remains an urgent need for heightened provincial attention and action to promptly and adequately address the extensive burden of opioid-related deaths being experienced by those who use substances,” Dubeau writes.