Kitchener receives twelve month exemption to open safe consumption site

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On July 26, Kitchener received a federal exemption from Canadian drug law to open a safe consumption site in the downtown sector. The exemption will last for a duration of 12 months before a renewal is needed.

150 Duke Street West was chosen as the concrete location for the safe consumption site and rented out by the city. The interim site is set to open in September with plans for a more permanent site in the new year, following some necessary renovations.

After deliberation by the city, 150 Duke Street West was selected due to having some of the highest levels of drug use in the city of Kitchener.

The decision to open a safe consumption site at 150 Duke Street West was a controversial one and received both positive and negative feedback from the community.

“People in the community were not convinced a safe consumption site was necessary,” said Karen Redman, Regional Chair of the Waterloo Region.

While many community members were in favour of the idea, other community members believed a safe consumption site may actually increase drug use and crime rates in the surrounding area, despite overwhelming research supporting the positive effects of supervised drug consumption sites in Canada.

Both the previous and current provincial governments offered funding for communities who wished to open safe consumption sites in their cities, which was a large contributing factor in the decision to pursue opening a safe consumption site in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.

We need to provide the kind of support that will keep people from becoming addicted to drugs and, if indeed they are, help them to get into rehab and lead productive lives.

— Karen Redman, Regional Chair of the Waterloo Region

The safe consumption site will offer drug users a safe place to consume drugs under the supervision of treatment professionals who are able to ensure people are using drugs as safely as possible and can assist in the case of an overdose.

“Consumption sites offer a safe place for people who are practicing risky behaviours to do it where there is help if they go into medical distress,” said Redman.

The site will also help to facilitate positive relationships between drug users and valuable community resources such as the Sanguen Health Centre, House of Friendship and local outreach workers who will help them get back on their feet.

“It offers safety for users, safety for the community by removing street drug use, and facilitates relationships between drug users and people who can offer them rehabilitation services, housing, and other essential addiction treatments” said Redman, “We need to provide the kind of support that will keep people from becoming addicted to drugs and, if indeed they are, help them to get into rehab and lead productive lives.”

In the midst of an opioid crisis, safe consumption sites are more essential to communities than ever before – especially with the rising presence of potentially lethal drugs fentanyl and carfentanyl in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.

“We are dealing with a health crisis that is seeing record numbers of people dying in our community,” said Redman.

Naloxone kits present at the safe consumption site at 150 Duke will provide life-saving support in cases of opioid overdose which, under other circumstances, may lead to death.

Addiction is a complex and challenging issue that both individuals and the Waterloo region community as a whole are fighting against. Because of the complicated nature of addiction and its countless different causes, it is notoriously difficult to treat.

“It can be isolation, it can be family unit breakdown, alcohol as a co-addiction, it can be mental health, job loss,” said Redman, speaking on the intricate factors which can contribute to the formation of an addiction.

There is no one way to treat addiction, and effective treatments will vary from person to person, but facilitating positive relationships between drug users and community resources is a crucial step towards getting each person the type of support they need.

Providing a broad spectrum of support to people who struggle with drug use and addiction is the best way to address the underlying issues and help community members who are grappling with this complex issue.

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