Ontario is the latest province to sign a bilateral agreement with the federal government, meaning the province will get its share of a $150-million fund earmarked for the opioid crisis.
The Ontario government will match a $51.1-million contribution from the federal government, which has already signed similar agreements with most of the other provinces and territories.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province’s share of a federal emergency opioid fund will expand access to treatment and rehabilitation services at supervised drug-use sites and rapid-access clinics and ensure Indigenous people can get culturally appropriate care.
“It truly is a crisis, a public-health crisis, and something that we take very seriously and something we want to address comprehensively,” Ms. Elliott said in an interview Wednesday.
The minister said the province is in the process of doing consultations to determine exactly how the funds will be spent. But she singled out Rapid Access Addiction Medicine Clinics, which are located throughout the province and quickly connect people with substance-use disorders to help. She also cited the need to ensure Indigenous people have access to culturally appropriate care in the context of the opioid crisis. But much of the province’s focus will be on ensuring Ontario’s 21 supervised drug-use sites will be able to connect people to addiction treatment, rehabilitation and other health-related services.
The province’s response to the opioid crisis has been in the spotlight in recent months, after Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced it was creating a new model for supervised drug-use sites, called consumption and treatment services. The government plans on emphasizing access to treatment, rehabilitation, primary care and other resources for people who use the sites. At the same time, the province is limiting the number of sites in the province to 21, which harm-reduction workers say could leave many areas of need without a site.
On Wednesday, Ms. Elliott confirmed the province will only consider approving 21 sites and said the approval process is on schedule to have them all up and running by the spring. She did not indicate whether the approved sites will include the 21 that are already operating in Ontario, or if new sites will be approved. The 21 sites will be approved based on need, proximity to other sites, support from the community and other criteria, she said.
In December, the federal government said it would make it easier for groups or cities that wanted supervised drug-use sites in their community to apply directly to the federal government. Ms. Elliott said she has not discussed this issue with her federal counterparts, but that she wants to continue “to work collaboratively” with Ottawa.
Ottawa and Ontario also announced Wednesday the signing of a bilateral agreement that will give Ontario $1.9-billion over 10 years to fund mental-health and addiction services, such as treatment for children and youth, better access to psychotherapy and counselling and increasing access to early psychosis intervention programs.