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A person walks across a street in downtown Timmins, Ont. on April 10, 2021. The city had funded Safe Health Site Timmins, but money for the centre has run out.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

The only safe consumption sites in Timmins and Sudbury, cities with some of the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in Ontario, are set to close this weekend because of a lack of funding from the province.

The closings highlight the uncertainty looming over the future of safe consumption and treatment services in Ontario, after the province’s decision last fall to pause all new applications and launch a review of the existing sites.

The Northern Ontario closings will inevitably lead to a spike in overdoses and deaths, based on the current number of overdoses in the region, said Seamus Murphy, deputy chief of standards and community services with the Cochrane District Paramedic Service, which includes Timmins and the surrounding area.

“Our call volume for opiate calls is going to double if not triple within the year,” he said. “Our fatality rate is going to triple if not quadruple.”

The sites provide a clean place for people to use drugs under supervision of trained workers and health care staff, who can intervene in the event of a medical emergency and also connect individuals with resources and support.

From July, 2022, when Safe Health Site Timmins opened, until September, 2023, it had more than 31,000 visits. Of those, there were 274 overdose reversals and no fatalities, according to data provided by Mr. Murphy. The site has helped divert people from the emergency room, prevented deaths, connected numerous individuals with support and treatment, and saved the health care system money, he said.

The City of Timmins was funding the site, but that money has run out and Mr. Murphy said they had expected the province to step in long before now, especially given the severity of the country’s toxic drug crisis. Mr. Murphy said the cost of running the site is around $1.5-million a year.

Once the site closes, it will make it harder for individuals to access safe supplies as well as access treatment, Mr. Murphy said. From a sheer numbers perspective, it will also cost much more to respond to individual overdoses in the community, he said.

Sudbury’s The Spot opened in the fall of 2022 and was also funded by the city, with the hope that the province would step in to offer a more permanent solution.

Heidi Eisenhauer, executive director of Réseau Access Network, which operates the site, said they have reversed 31 overdoses since they opened and have only had to call an ambulance once, demonstrating that the site saves lives and also reduces use of the hospital. The tainted drug supply and the growing toll of the overdose crisis mean that more resources should be spent on harm reduction to help vulnerable individuals, she said.

“It is shameful that we’re not having that equitable health care for people that need it most,” she said.

Ontario launched a review of the consumption and treatment sites last summer, after the shooting death of an innocent bystander near a site in Toronto’s east end. One of the people charged in the incident worked at the site. The province has not provided details on what is being included in the review and when it will be complete.

In an e-mail statement, Hannah Jensen, a spokesperson for Health Minister Sylvia Jones, said the reviews of the province’s 17 sites “remain ongoing and will inform the next steps taken by the Ministry of Health including funding, location and application decisions. All applications remain on pause.”

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