More opioid deaths for the North without supervised consumption sites – Mayor

Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker says Northern Ontario will continue to suffer higher rates of opioid deaths and hospitalizations without a supervised consumption site.

The Mayor’s comments follow a report to Council Monday night on progress toward a supervised consumption site locally from Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm White.

White’s report noted deaths per capita were much higher in Northern Ontario compared to southern Ontario. “My view has been that we ought to have a (supervised) consumption site and it should be funded by the province because they are constitutionally mandated to provide health care,” said Shoemaker. “What they are funding in one place should be funded across the province. (But) that’s not how they see the world.”

The CAO’s report states that in 2021, emergency room visits and deaths in Sault Ste. Marie related to opioid use was 138 per 100,000 people, compared to the provincial average of 86 per 100,000 residents.
The death rate locally was 64 per 100,000, and 21 per 100,000 provincially.

The Mayor says when supervised sites on Sudbury and Timmins shut down, which he deemed inevitable, the situation in the north will go from bad to worse. Closures in those two cities will leave the north with just one supervised consumption site, in Thunder Bay, to cover a stretch of land spanning nearly 2,000 kilometres.

Meanwhile, supervised consumption sites have been a fixture in southern Ontario for about a decade, many in larger urban centres, said Shoemaker.

The province this fall put a pause on any approvals for new sites following a violent incident in the vicinity of a supervised consumption site in the area. It’s not known how long the pause will be in effect and what criteria the province will mandate when the pause is finally lifted.

The City, said White, should proceed with initial steps toward establishing a supervised consumption site rather than wait for the province to set its guidelines.

White recommends the Sault begin the process of applying for a federal exemption, a mandatory step under the section 56.1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The CAO says there’s incremental benefit by having dialogue among local agencies at this early stage, adding “a lot of work can be accomplished outside of site selection and site constraints” while the City applies for the exemption. The province has provided no timeline for issuing its criteria
and to wait would mean time will “slip away.”

White said there was strong agreement among local organizations and agencies on the need for a supervised consumption site, especially if it is tied into treatment (and) “if it can be the first point of contact for people to get them to different services that they need.”

Currently, said White, Emergency at Sault Area Hospital is the only first point of contact available locally.
“Obviously, if we can reduce the amount of traffic through there that’s a great thing,” said White.

The City cannot be the principal applicant for the federal exemption. White said it’s yet to be determined what local agency will be able to take the lead in the application process.

“All of the organizations are facing significant challenges in providing their core mandate of services,” said White. “They face the same workforce challenges that all organizations and businesses in the community are facing now and they face funding challenges,” said White.

White said while local agencies are hesitant to commit to implementing and operating a supervised consumption site, many have pledged to be a part of helping to further the process to getting one.
These include Algoma Public Health, Canadian Mental Health Association, Mental Health and Addictions System Planning Table, a subgroup of the Algoma Ontario Health Team.

White’s report stated a large number of staff from many agencies, along with volunteers, are local agencies are working “night and day” to help those in need.

The federal government, through Health Canada, has developed four pillars as part of its Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy: Prevention, Treatment, Harm Reduction and Enforcement.

The Sault is falling short in delivering on Harm Reduction, said the Mayor, in the absence of a supervised consumption site.

Said Shoemaker: “That continues to effect Northern Ontario in a way that is disproportionately negative compared to our southern Ontario neighbors.”

Shoemaker is hopeful that the local efforts toward the federal exemption will be successful. He didn’t mince many words when it came to what he clearly feels is a failure to act on the part of the province, however. “You’ve got access if you’re in Southern Ontario, to one treatment option, that pretty soon, you’re not going to have access to in the north at all,” said Shoemaker.

The Mayor said the City and its partners will proceed down the path toward obtaining a federal exemption, but there are no guarantees. “Hopefully, we are successful in that application. Hopefully we obtain that and hopefully the province sets criteria that we are able to meet for the establishment and the funding of the operations of these supervised consumption sites,” said Shoemaker.

Until then, added Shoemaker, an inequity will continue to exist between healthcare in northern Ontario versus southern Ontario. “We will unfortunately continue to suffer higher rates of opioid hospitalizations, opioid overdoses and higher rates of opioid deaths.

I don’t think that is acceptable and if you don’t think that is acceptable, I encourage all the residents that are of the same view to contact your member of provincial parliament and encourage them to move more quickly on this file, to put it in the most polite way I can.”


  • Ron Jokelainen

    Ron has returned to writing and reporting after 27 years with Ontario Lottery & Gaming. He began as a staff writer with OLG in 1994 before moving to Sports Marketing in 1997. He retired as a Senior sports analyst in 2021. Prior to OLG, Ron worked in radio and print journalism in the Sault and Simcoe. Folks may remember Ron "Williams" with CFYN-CHAS in the early 90s A graduate of Windsor's St. Clair College Journalism program, Ron lists drumming, gardening and walking among his favourite hobbies.

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2 thoughts on “More opioid deaths for the North without supervised consumption sites – Mayor

  1. Another horrible idea by the green, hyper mayor that the near-broke city can even begin to afford., it’s a bad idea to start with but if the province won’t pay for it, forget it. You are dragging the city down more every day. It is sad to watch all of the blunders.

    Another one of his latest beauties is paying half a million dollars to cut apart the Norgoma into pieces when it could be sunk to create an artificial reef and a possible diving area.

    1. Tell me your low IQ with out telling me.

      They need to strip the ship of anything toxic to sink for an attraction, it’ll cost them more to do that vs scraping it like that are.

      Lastly an safe consumption site won’t bring down this city. People like you bring down this city more than anyone.

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