BARRIE, ONT. -- The contentious fight around bringing a supervised drug consumption site to Barrie will go another round this fall.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit says a site selection advisory committee is reviewing five potential locations for the facility near the city centre.

Mia Brown, Manager of the Substance Use and Injury Prevention Program, says the group is working on whittling the list down.

"Our plan is to come up with two or three of our top options, to bring forward to city council and the public. And we will be conducting community consultations on those two or three locations."

Brown says the sites under consideration are in areas where open drug use is already happening, where there is access to other support services, and room to expand.

She acknowledges any site has to serve the needs of drug users and the broader community.

The SMDHU aims to have council approve a site by the end of 2020, so an application to open can be filed with the provincial government.

The COVID-19 crisis has slowed the site selection process, but the wave of opioid deaths has not subsided.

"Across the province, [the coroner's office has] witnessed an increase in opioid-related overdose deaths during the pandemic time frame, and we noticed that locally as well," Brown says.

Thirty-five people lost their lives to opioid overdoses in Simcoe-Muskoka in the first four months of 2020; 14 more than over the same period in 2019.

Public health officials aren't sure of the relationship between the pandemic and spike in deaths, but Brown calls it "concerning."

Some communities where supervised consumption sites have been running for years are now offering addicts a safe space and a safe supply of drugs.

Last week, the city of Toronto announced it was moving forward with a safer supply program at two locations, thanks to $582,000 in federal funding.

"We're fundamentally dealing with tainted drugs," explained Joe Cressy, Chair of Toronto's Board of Health. "It's an opioid poisoning crisis as much as it's an overdose crisis."

The mayor of Barrie is open to talking about transplanting the program but defers to experts' advice.

"I think we should be open to the recommendations of public health," says Jeff Lehman. "We've just been through six months of our entire lives being guided by the recommendations of public health for good reason, because we had a crisis that was killing people. This is as well."

Brown expects safe supply will be part of the health unit's opioid strategy discussions and planning in 2021.