As a number of community initiatives are set to start for those with mental health and addiction challenges, Sault Ste. Marie’s mayor has reiterated the need for a safe consumption site in the community to complement them.
Mayor Matthew Shoemaker opened Tuesday’s SOYA Family Matters conference with remarks about the situation in Sault Ste. Marie.
The conference brought together speakers with lived experience, mental health and addiction support services and the general public to discuss the state of Sault Ste. Marie’s response.
In his remarks, Shoemaker said he is still working on his campaign promises to see a supervised consumption site open in the Sault, as well as advocating for a return of Sault Area Hospital’s concurrent disorders day treatment program.
Shoemaker said he has been ‘pounding the table' when speaking to MPP Ross Romano about the need for the return of the concurrent disorders day treatment program that was offered by Sault Area Hospital before it was unable to continue due to lack of funding.
“I think a supervised consumption site is a critical need for the community,” added Shoemaker.
In discussions with the mayor of Timmins, Shoemaker said it is clear the addition of a supervised consumption site has helped improve the situation in that city.
“Every person who has not overdosed, who has not died because they attended the supervised consumption site is an improvement for the situation there,” he said.
The most recent opioid statistics show the Algoma Public Health Unit has the fourth highest death rate in Ontario, with 42.4 deaths per 100,000. Only Thunder Bay, North Bay and the Northwestern Health Unit have worse rates for the most recent statistics, dated June 2022.
That number is almost three times the provincial average of 14.6 opioid-related deaths per 100,000. Many of the people living in communities with lower death rates have access to supervised consumption sites and other services not currently available in the Sault.
A supervised consumption site will not fix the opioid crisis in Sault Ste. Marie by itself, said Shoemaker, but it will complement other services like the soon-to-open Northway Wellness Centre and live-in youth treatment program, among others.
“We need every type of service we can get, we need every type of support, we need every type of group in the community to lend their skill and ability to this issue,” said Shoemaker. “Without it, our economy continues to lag, our families continue to suffer without it and we cannot achieve the greatness I know our community is able to achieve because there will always be that aspect of something that remains a crisis in our community.”
“I suspect there won’t be a day when we will be completely past it, but hopefully there will be a day when the numbers improve, the trend improves and we can say events like this and groups like SOYA have been a great success,” he added.