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Warning issued in Waterloo Region after 35 overdoses and two deaths in three days

Opioids are seen in this file image. Opioids are seen in this file image.

A concerning trend has prompted a new community drug alert from Waterloo Region Integrated Drug Strategy (WRIDS).

The organization said 35 overdoses or drug poisonings were reported over a three-day period, between May 23 and May 26.

They also said there were two suspected drug-related deaths.

“We’re putting out the warning to the community that those who are using substances take as many precautions as they can including not using alone, making sure they have somebody there, if there is an incident that NARCAN is ready,” Cameron Dearlove, with WRIDS, told CTV News.

The alert said the Kitchener Consumption and Treatment Services Drug Checking Program has recentlydetected fentanyl and various fentanyl analogues, Benzodiazepines and Xylazine in submitted samples.

“The unregulated drug supply is so dangerous because people are buying it and they don’t know what’s in it, sometimes the people selling it don’t know what’s in it,” Dearlove said. “In this case we have fentanyl but it’s been laced or has traces or amounts of other more dangerous substances. These things put together can really have devastating consequences.”

Substances of concern were red, orange, dark pink, green, and grey in colour.

WRIDS encourages people to use services like the CTS site in Kitchener and the Drug Checking Program

“What’s alarming is that, knowing these substances are probably still on the street and people might still have them that haven’t used them yet, and that’s why the warnings are so important. People can go in and have their substances tested to find out what’s actually in them before they use them.”

Calls for another CTS site

WRIDS is pushing for a CTS site to open in Cambridge, a project that has been in the works since October 2021.

Donna Reid, the late Cambridge councillor, put forward the motion to endorse the 150 Main Street site, a Region of Waterloo Public Health building. The motion was passed 7-1, with one member not voting. 

WRIDS said a Cambridge site is long overdue.

“That’s one of the things we’ve been advocating for a long time is the number of harm reduction strategies which are in use or are in limited use, or sometimes the funding is coming to an end.”

According the city’s website, CTS sites are regulated by regional, federal and provincial governments. 

“A potential health provider or agency will need to apply through the federal and provincial application process to open and operate a site,” their website read.

In order to receive provincial funding, council must endorse the site before it can be established.

“I’m hopeful that we have another CTS site in Cambridge,” Dearlove said “I’m hopeful that we will have a variety of supports across the spectrum from prevention to harm reduction to treatment to recovery.”

An online forum was held in March 2023 by the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and area (ACCKWA), who was the community agency applying to run the site.

During the online forum, they had shared details on the services planned for 150 Main Street and data on the impact of CTS sites in neighbouring communities.

ACCKWA also signed a letter on the crisis of Ontario Supervised Consumption Site (SCS) closures that was released March 4, 2024, facilitated by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.

“There is a cap imposing a maximum of 21 Ontario sites, and the process requires additional conditions exceeding Health Canada’s requirements…during the provincial moratorium on applications, we cannot proceed on a Cambridge CTS application,” their website reads.

ACCKWA went on to say if responded to, the requests in the letter will enable them to proceed on an application for a Cambridge site.

“The best opportunity for swift implementation occurred in 2017-2018 when our Regional Public Health department did a very comprehensive process, intending to proceed with applications in both Cambridge and Kitchener, but were halted from proceeding in Cambridge due to strong opposition,” said Ruth Cameron, with ACCKWA, in an email to CTV News. “The Ministry of Health communicated that a new consultation process was necessary when ACCKWA indicated intent to proceed with an application in 2022. We didn’t receive resources to proceed with consultation and data collection until the end of 2022, and completed those activities in 2023.”

Response from Ministry of Health

Ontario’s Ministry of Health launched a “critical incident review” of supervised consumption centres in the province following the death of Karolina Huebner-Makurat who was killed in July 2023 after she was hit by a stray bullet near the South Riverdale Community Health Centre in Toronto’s east-end.

In October, Ontario's associate minister for mental health confirmed that the province paused its approval of new supervised consumption and treatment sites while that review was underway.

CTV News reached out to the Ministry of Health on Tuesday for an update on the plan for new CTS sites.

“In this year’s historic budget, our government announced an additional investment of $396 million over three years for mental health and addictions services,” said Hannah Jensen, spokesperson for the Minister of Health. “This includes $124 million to support the Addictions Recovery Fund which will fund more addictions recovery beds and new mobile mental health clinics.”

The statement goes on to say: “Following the tragic incident in July at the Riverdale CTS site, the ministry launched a review of all 17 provincial CTS sites and a third-party review led by Unity Health of the Riverdale site. These reviews include consulting with Public Health, community engagement, reviewing complaints against the CTS sites and taking steps to strengthening accountability measures with existing sites, ensuring they’re living up to their requirements. These reviews will inform the next steps taken by the Ministry of Health including funding, location and application decisions. All applications remain on pause.” Top Stories

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