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CMHA SCB pulls plug on Barrie consumption site application amid ongoing provincial delays

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The doors have been closed indefinitely on a proposed safe consumption and treatment site (CTS) in Barrie to help combat the opioid crisis.

In a release issued Monday, the Canadian Mental Health Association Simcoe County Branch (CMHA SCB) announced it decided to withdraw its application for the site at 11 Innisfil Street after waiting years for the Ontario government's stamp of approval to move forward.

The City of Barrie hopes to open a safe consumption site at 11 Innisfil Street (80 Bradford Street). (CTV News Barrie)

"Since autumn 2021, we made significant investments in this site because it is a crucial service for the community," stated Dr. Valerie Grdisa, CMHA Simcoe County CEO in the release. "As each month passed, more lives were and continue to be lost in Barrie and Simcoe County to the opioid crisis.

Although we appreciate these decisions require careful consideration, we are not comfortable continuing to pay rent without a response when we could be using these funds to meet other needs of the community."

The application for the CTS was initially submitted in 2021 to Health Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health. The federal approval was granted the following year, but the province paused giving the green light on all applications following a fatal shooting outside a consumption and treatment site in Toronto.

In a statement to CTV News in March, the Ministry of Health said applications at all 17 provincial CTS sites remained under review, and that the applications would remain paused during the review process.

Advocates rallied outside Queen's Park, urging the Ford government to end its review process, calling the pause irresponsible.

Safe consumption site advocates rally at Queen's Park in Toronto, Ont., on Tues., May 28, 2024. (CTV News)

According to experts, there were 16 suspected drug-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka last month alone.

"In 2023, tragically, 53 people lost their lives in Barrie to a suspected opioid-related poisoning. Thus far in 2024 (up to June 11, 2024), 26 people lost their lives to a suspected drug-related death in Barrie, and the immediate surrounding area," the release stated.

Advocates say safe consumption and treatment sites play a crucial role in preventing serious harm to those who use drugs, and help increase the intake of addiction treatment.

"They also serve the broader community by improving public order and safety through reducing the presence of discarded drug paraphernalia and public drug use," noted Dr. Lisa Simon, associate medical officer of health at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU).

Despite the setback, the health unit and the CMHA SCB said they would remain actively involved in addressing the opioid crisis by expanding access to medical treatment for addiction, raising public awareness, and working with people who use drugs.

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