The Hamilton Spectator
Do more to prevent overdoses, council urged
City politicians endorse AIDS Network’s plan for supervised drug-use site on Barton Street East
Advocates are calling on the city to do more to prevent overdose deaths in Hamilton through safe-ruse spaces.
That means programs in shelters and in the community for people to use drugs under supervision, such as the local AIDS Network’s proposal for a centre on Barton Street East.
But as taking action is debated, the death toll rises, Marcie McIlveen, of the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team, told councillors Monday.
“Right now someone’s child is dying and someone’s parent is dying, and I personally am sick of being OK with that by being complacent.”
Overdoses, meanwhile, are rampant at shelters, Olivia Mancini, who’s with the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, told the board of health.
From October to December, there were five deaths at the Salvation Army shelter on York Boulevard, said Mancini.
“The five lives that we know about are only a few of the other known and unknown who have died from the illicit toxic drug supply in our community.”
Some “immediate solutions” should be safer-use spaces at the Booth Centre and other emergency shelters in Hamilton to help prevent more deaths, said Mancini, who has worked in the sector.
“I’ve been involved in situations where service users are given the impossible choice of having to dispose of their sterile harm-reduction supplies or giving up their warm shelter bed.”
In an email Monday, the Salvation Army declined to comment, saying the shelter operator had nothing more to add beyond a previous statement in response to calls for a supervised drug-use program.
The Salvation Army is an “innovative” partner that works with other agencies to support those “dealing with addiction, homelessness and food insecurity,” spokesperson Billy Canning wrote in December.
“In some cases, a collaborative
approach with other agencies is required to achieve positive outcomes for the community’s most vulnerable.”
The board of health, meanwhile, directed staff to meet with health and drug policy experts and people with experience to “develop an evidencebased harm reduction action plan,” including safer-use spaces in the homeless-serving sector, to tackle opioid-related deaths. A report is expected in June.
The local drug-poisoning crisis continues to worsen.
“Between 2016 and 2021 Hamilton experienced a 245 per cent increase in opioid-related overdoses and a 229 per cent increase in opioid-related deaths,” notes a staff report.
From January to October of last year, the city had 139 confirmed or probable opioid-related deaths, while its mortality rate has been “consistently higher” than that of Ontario.
Overdose deaths can be deemed probable until probes by the provincial coroner can confirm them.
Also Monday, city politicians endorsed the AIDS Network’s application for a consumption and treatment services (CTS) site on Barton Street East near Barnesdale Avenue.
“There are so many life-saving reasons for a program there,” executive director Tim McClemont said.
The plan, which awaits provincial and federal approvals, also involves “strong on-site wraparound services” including programming for mental health and addiction.
But the proposal for Hamilton’s second CTS site has generated resistance from some local residents and businesses, pointing to its proximity to schools, churches and community organizations.
“There is significant community opposition to this,” said Walter Furlan, calling the address the “wrong location” and arguing the process has lacked consultation.