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Letter to Minister Elliott regarding COVID-19's impact on the opioid overdose crisis

Dear Minister Elliott,

We write to you today regarding COVID-19’s impact on the ongoing opioid overdose crisis. We are organizations operating and supporting overdose prevention and supervised consumption services in Ontario. We affirm the importance of these services and remain committed to providing essential supports to communities that face surmountable barriers in accessing health care.

As the COVID-19 crisis rapidly evolves, consumption treatment and overdose prevention services continue to play an important daily role as indispensable healthcare access points for marginalized communities. They provide front facing care, while concurrently responding to a relentlessly escalating opioid overdose and drug poisoning crisis. In February 2020, providers reported sharp increases in overdoses in many Ontario communities, with fatalities in some regions due to a poisoned drug supply. The providers working in consumption treatment and overdose prevention settings are providing an essential service that reverses overdoses, saves lives, and reduces pressure on emergency services and acute care. Right now, these essential service providers cannot provide care to populations accessing their centres because of shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE). These centres must remain accessible for the people who need them and PPE must be made accessible to them with the same urgency given to other front facing providers.

Facilities responding to the opioid crisis see marginalized and heavily stigmatized populations, who often face barriers in accessing care and are otherwise disengaged from health care. Service providers in these organizations have cultivated trust within these communities. If we are to meet targets outlined by the Public Health Agency of Canada in flattening the curve of this pandemic, care must remain accessible within consumption treatment services and overdose prevention centres.

Halting overdoses and preventing fatalities requires close contact. Service providers cannot provide this care in good conscience without adequate protective gear. Multiple facilities across the province have reported critical shortages in PPE, in some instances impacting service provision. On Monday, March 16, 2020 Street Health in Toronto had to close service due to PPE shortages. This is unacceptable in the midst of a crisis; it will lead to preventable deaths and devastate communities. The province must act now to address these inequities and support providers serving marginalized populations. 

We urge the province to make PPE dissemination to these facilities a priority. Additionally, Ontario’s government must develop and implement a strategy specifically addressing COVID-19 response in these critical facilities. Practitioners in these facilities must be included in planning tables and service providers in the facilities must be supported with adequate resources.

We remain committed to working with you to address these two historically significant health crises. We invite the province to act boldly to ensure no-one is left behind and all Ontarians can access quality care in this difficult time.

Sincerely,

  • Fred Victor Centre
  • Guelph Community Health Centre
  • Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre
  • Kingston Community Health Centres
  • NorWest Community Health Centres
  • Ottawa Inner City Health Inc.
  • Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre
  • Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC)
  • Regent Park Community Health Centre
  • Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
  • Sanguen Health Centre
  • Somerset West Community Health Centre
  • South Riverdale Community Health Centre
  • Street Health, Toronto
  • St. Stephen's Community House
  • Windsor Essex Community Health Centre
  • The Works, Toronto Public Health
  • Addictions and Mental Health Ontario
  • Children’s Mental Health Ontario
  • Alliance for Healthier Communities
Tuesday, March 17, 2020