London drug sites get backyard boost as key deadline looms – The London Free Press
With health officials racing the clock to keep London’s temporary supervised drug consumption site alive, help is coming from an unlikely corner.
Londoner Deana Ruston, who is organizing an online petition, says the life of the injection site, expiring next week, needs to be extended.
She also wants to see two proposed permanent drug-use sites approved.
Ruston, 26, lives in an apartment building that overlooks one of the proposed sites, 446 York St.
Far from the not-in-my-backyard reaction such projects sometimes trigger, Ruston said the planned sites need all the community support they can get to help counter the deadly opioid drug crisis.
“It’s really important that these vulnerable members of the community have access to these services,” she said Wednesday. “It’s about making it happen for people who need it the most.”
A recent graduate of King’s University College in London, Ruston majored in thanatology — the study of death and how it affects people — and said she hopes to work in social services.
She volunteers at Innovation Works, located across the street from the temporary drug overdose prevention site — Ontario’s first — at 186 King St. Its provincial approval runs out Wednesday.
That deadline might not have been a problem if the Ontario government hadn’t changed in the June election: The former Liberal government, under Kathleen Wynne, authorized the site.
But Premier Doug Ford was critical of drug consumption sites during the election campaign, saying he’s “dead against” them, and area public health officials still haven’t heard if his Progressive Conservative government will approve their application to extend the temporary site. As the first up, London will become a test case of the Ford government’s intentions.
Health officials will only say they’re hopeful.
“Right now we are optimistic that extension will be granted in time,“ said Dan Flaherty, a spokesperson for the Middlesex-London health unit. “We are not speculating on what might happen if that does not happen.”
Ontario’s deadly opioid drug crisis has hit hard in many cities, including London, leading health officials to push for supervised consumption sites where illegal drug use is condoned, but under medical supervision as an alternative to overdoses and other problems in hidden or private locations.
The online petition Ruston began on change.org has more than 540 names. When she heard her neighbourhood was a candidate site, she said, she wanted her voice heard to help.
“I feel this is something London needs. We have to respond to the social and health crisis at hand and this is one of the ways to do so,” she said.
Several Londoners posted their reason for backing Ruston’s online move to help.
“As a mother, I am supporting the proposed supervised injection sites,” wrote Arielle Kayabaga.
“It is the best solution possible to our drug problems in this city. We must build on success that currently exists at the site at 186 King Street,” wrote Cedric Richards.
Still, Ruston admits it’s a controversial issue, something she saw firsthand at a community information meeting at the end of July.
“There’s a lot of questions (about the site) and a lot of folks unsure about how it all works,” she said.
As the health unit continues to plan the sites and share stories about successes from the temporary operation that began in February, Ruston said the concept should be given a chance.
“Now that we have individuals seeking support, it’s a gateway for them to get other supports that they may need,” she said.
The temporary overdose-prevention site opened with provincial funding of $130,700 for operating costs. The site gets an average of 55 visits daily, public health officials wrote in a report to their board.
As of the end of June, there’d been more than 4,000 unique visits.
The health unit has approval of both local and provincial governments to set up two permanent sites, but those plans can’t go ahead until approved by Health Canada.
Flaherty said there’s no new information to report from the federal government about the two sites, one in a building that’s been occupied by a music store at 446 York St. and the other at a public housing complex at 241 Simcoe St.
Ruston said she hopes her online petition — to the city, and local, provincial and federal health authorities — will help people see the positive in supervised drug injection sites.
“I want everybody, no matter their experience, to feel welcome and supported in the city.”