Opioids were a hot topic Tuesday as regional councillors heard from police, social agencies and concerned residents about the rise of overdoses across the region.
As of Dec. 1, there had been 65 overdose deaths in Waterloo Region year-to-date, a rate of nearly one death every five days. Twenty-nine of them occurred in Cambridge, 27 in Kitchener and nine in Waterloo.
Cambridge, which received a large share of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, has also received a disproportionate amount of public attention for its experiences with opioid overdoses.
Much of the talk there has been focused on the Galt core, where residents and business owners have voiced concerns about unwanted visitors and discarded drug paraphernalia.
Mayor Doug Craig says the city has seen an “astronomical” increase in the number of calls to police seeking help dealing with unwanted people.
“That’s one of the major complaints I’m getting – people in backyards that shouldn’t be there, people as you go into the library that are accosting other citizens,” he said.
One measure being considered as a way to curb opioid abuse is the opening of one or more safe injection sites within the region.
These sites would provide opioid users with clean needles and a space in which to use them, as well a starting point for access to other public health services.
Proponents say safe injection sites can assist people in finding help for their addictions, while minimizing needle litter and other opioid-related impacts to the rest of the community. They have been shown to reduce the number of overdoses and lower rates of HIV, hepatitis C and similar blood-borne viruses.
Craig says most of the feedback he’s heard has been against opening such sites, although he thinks the region could do more to explain the thinking behind the idea.
“The majority of people, I think, in Cambridge are opposed to the sites, and they don’t really have all the information,” he said.
“That’s what I’m concerned about.”
Approximately 600,000 needles were given away by the region’s public health department in 2016. Fewer than half were returned to the health unit.
A report on safe injection sites is expected to go before councillors in February.
With reporting by Max Wark