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The Alliance supports Hon. Minister Hadju's call to action on the opioid crisis
Hon. Minister Hajdu,
We write to thank you for your letter dated August 24, 2020 sent to Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Health and regulatory colleges to encourage action at all levels to provide people who use drugs with a full spectrum of care from practitioners. We are supportive of your call to action and are encouraged by your commitment to ensuring essential supports are available to communities that face surmountable barriers in accessing health care.
The Alliance for Healthier Communities is a network of over 100 community-governed comprehensive primary health organizations in Ontario. In 2019, recognizing the severity of the overdose crisis, Alliance members signed a sector wide commitment in support of the decriminalization of drug use and possession, as well as expanded access to safer supply. Of Ontario’s 16 provincially funded consumption treatments services (CTS) sites, 11 are located in Alliance member organizations. Our sector has been monitoring the impact of the crisis closely. Additionally, four Alliance members currently house or are affiliated with safer supply programs operating in the province.
In Ontario, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and complicated the opioid overdose and drug poisoning crisis. As you note in your letter, Ontario experienced a 25 percent increase in overdose deaths from March to May 2020, compared with the same period last year. The Office of the Chief Coroner notes that an estimated 55 people are dying per week of overdoses. The crisis is severe, people who use drugs need appropriate and effective care from trusted healthcare providers.
Community-led health organizations responding to the ongoing crisis know that we cannot address the opioid crisis without adopting ambitious and forward looking strategies. Our province urgently needs expanded access to clinical care models of safer supply. These low-barrier models reach people who are alienated from other models of health care due to structural barriers. Especially as provinces respond to the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario needs interventions that will reduce barriers to care.
We thank you for calling on provinces and practitioners to expand access to solutions grounded in health evidence. Minister, in your letter you note that the opioid crisis is a health and social issue and people who use drugs need to be treated with compassion and provided with the support they need. We contend that decriminalization of drugs and ending the war on drugs is part of compassionate and health based care. The opioid crisis requires a public health response; criminalization is causing harm to already marginalized people.
We know these interventions mitigate risk to communities experiencing these dual crises. COVID-19 and the opioid crisis both present unprecedented crises. We cannot address one at the expense of the other.
We thank you for your intervention and urge you to continue calling on the province and practitioner bodies to implement interventions today that will enable communities to address the impact of both.
Adrianna Tetley, CEO
Alliance for Healthier Communities