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April 5, 2024

Updated: Apr 12

While the overdose and death rate of Northern Ontarians is triple that of the rest of the province, the government callously sits on its hands



March 5, 2024

I don’t think that it will come as a shock to most readers, but none of us are perfect. Granted, some may think and behave to the contrary, but I can assure you that such self-indulging confidence is misplaced. For any person to believe they are perfect is, quite simply, proof of their imperfect sensibility.

In the eyes of the Creator, all people have value. We all have struggles and weaknesses. It is human nature for us to want to rise above. That’s what life is about. We face challenges and devise solutions to work through to improve and resolve our issues. How can one assess or place a higher value on one person than another?

Nonetheless, sometimes, people have to try and try and try again to overcome weaknesses and challenges. Do all smokers conquer their addiction the first time? Do gamblers and alcoholics fare any better? Of course not. Should people with such issues be tossed aside or forgotten as hopeless? Should we conclude that imperfect citizens have no value or purpose in society and are forever doomed? Taking one step at a time, people turn their lives around for the better every day.

Too many people suffering from addictions are forced to get their fix in seclusion, which is a dangerous practice. There is another way. To address the dangers involved with using illicit substances, our public health system includes safe and supervised consumption sites so that individuals in the midst of a battle with addiction need not risk injury and death from a poisoned supply, a lethal dose or contaminated equipment. There is a trained support staff on hand in case things go wrong, such as overdoses or toxic drugs. As well, staff are ready to offer information and support for those when they decide it’s time to get control of their addiction. This approach stems from the philosophy that a person with an addiction of any kind can change their behaviour and begin anew.

All people have value and deserve to live. All of us are someone’s child, sibling, parent or friend. The human thing for us to do is reach out to help others when they need support. And that’s what safe consumption sites do. Best of all, they effectively save lives and offer many other benefits. Health Canada lists the following as benefits of providing supervised consumption sites:

  • reduce the risk of accidental overdose because people are not rushing or using alone

  • connect people to social services like housing, employment assistance and food banks

  • provide or connect people to healthcare and treatment

  • reduce public drug use and discarded drug equipment

  • reduce spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV

  • reduce strain on emergency medical services, so they can focus on other emergencies

  • provides space for people to connect with staff and peers, which can help a person moderate their drug use and decide to pursue treatment

Look at the statistics published by Algoma Public Health (APH). They are beyond shocking. Opioid mortality rates in Northern Ontario communities are THREE TIMES higher than the provincial average. These are crisis levels!

After the Ford government was elected in 2018, when questioned about the need for safer consumption sites, Minister of Health Christine Elliott announced in July that the province would begin considering the merit of such funding. Well, here we are in April 2024, and the Ministry has still not finished its deliberation. The March 13, 2024, issue of the Sault Star reported that the Premier said the review is “almost complete.”

The Ford government’s lack of urgency in resolving this problem here in the North, which the Ford Conservatives demonstrate, is appalling. Do they not believe that all lives, including those of Northern Ontarians, have value? What is the holdup?

On March 5, 2024, CBC News reported that fifty-one community groups across Ontario have been pleading with the provincial government to immediately fund and support supervised consumption services, including our Northern communities. In addition, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition wrote an open letter to the Ontario government on March 5, 2024. The letter contained eight calls for government action and requested a meeting within days due to the urgent nature of the situation. The Registered Nurses of Ontario also issued an action alert asking people to tell Premier Ford to lift his freeze on safe site approvals. And kudos to Mayor Matthew Shoemaker of Sault Ste. Marie who has written ten letters to the government about the lack of investment in mental health and addiction projects, including safe consumption sites, here in the North.

How can Premier Ford justify maintaining a cap of funded consumption sites in Ontario at just 21? And knowing how effective safe consumption sites are, how can he justify taking so long to consider if it is a worthwhile investment? What makes this so very callous is that the suffering and deaths are preventable. Does the Premier believe that the lives of people with substance abuse issues are less valuable? And don’t forget how Premier Ford always claims he is there for the little guys.

The government has been sitting on its hands for far too long. In fact, it has been studying the matter since the Conservatives took office. It’s not just some late high school term paper. This is literally a matter of life and death.

If we want the world to be better, we must learn to love or at least care for everyone. Caring for others is just human nature, giving our lives purpose beyond our fulfilment. That is what governments are elected to do: protect and care for all people equally. I will leave you with this quotation by author Nate Sanna: “Our love is a garden, and where there’s addiction, weeds grow. But I am the cultivator; I’ll keep tending to the blooms of our love, waiting for you to join me in smelling the flowers.”

As always, I invite you to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at mmantha-co@ola.org or call Toll-free 1-800-831-1899.

 

Michael Mantha, MPP

Algoma-Manitoulin 

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