A social justice group in Oxford County is calling on Woodstock city council to support a supervised drug-use site amid opposition from some local politicians.

In the wake of a politician’s proposed motion to block any call to open such a clinic in Woodstock, the Oxford Coalition for Social Justice is asking council to rethink the purpose and benefits of having a service that can protect “residents from unnecessary harm.”

The coalition “sees multiple grounds for the City of Woodstock becoming the first municipality in Oxford to be willing to protect its residents from unnecessary harm,” it wrote in an email to politicians on Monday.

“What we’re calling on the council to do is to demonstrate good financial sense, good community sense and a level of empathy,” said Bryan Smith, the group’s chair.

“It seems strange to talk about dollars on something like this,” but, Smith said, the coalition’s research of supervised drug-use sites operating in cities such as Vancouver and Montreal indicates they can reduce municipal costs, such as policing and ambulances.

The motion in question – to be debated at the Aug. 10 meeting – was prompted by a Southwestern Public Health study that suggests more safe consumption and treatment services are needed in the region amid rising opioid-related deaths and hospitalizations. The health unit that oversees Elgin and Oxford counties, now in the second stage of the study, is identifying potential sites in Woodstock and St. Thomas.

Coun. Mark Schadenberg is proposing a motion to thwart the possibility of locating one in Woodstock “to prevent unnecessary time and effort on any ongoing exploration and consideration.”

Supervised drug-use sites allow people to safely use illicit drugs under medical supervision and access social and health services. Proponents champion them for reducing overdoses and the spread of infections.

There are 26 such sites in Ontario and 38 across Canada. The only one in Southwestern Ontario is in London.

Schadenberg has expressed the need for urgent action but raised concerns about the availability of such a site and its proximity schools and daycare centres. He and Coun. Deb Tait also have said they want more money put into drug rehabilitation services.

Smith, while agreeing about the need, argued supervised drug-use sites can act as links between rehabilitation facilities and people who use drugs.

“We’d be much better if people who are taking drugs have access to a safe place to do so and don’t die,” he said. “It’s also much better if we can persuade them to rehabilitation, or even drug substitution. Once they start to trust medical personnel (at a supervised drug-use site) maybe they’ll go to a methadone clinic.”

In its eight-page letter to council, the social justice coalition asks politicians to consider empathy and the research on the health and economic benefits as key reasons to support a supervised drug-use site.

Smith said he hopes politicians will advance Woodstock’s reputation as the Friendly City when voting on Aug. 10.

“To say there’s a portion of the population that you will turn your back on is contrary to the ethos of the city.”

cleon@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/CalviatLFPress

By Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 25, 2023 at 08:15

This item reprinted with permission from   London Free Press   London, Ontario
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