Kingston City Council has approved a contribution of $269,000 to a new drug-checking pilot project from Kingston Community Health Centres (KCHC)
The pilot project will see KCHC partner with local technology firm Spectra Plasmonics over 15 months, and submit a final report to Health Canada on their findings. The City will contribute the remaining balance of provincial funds from the implementation of cannabis legalization ($142,000), as well as other operating funds towards the project.
“We are seeing a high drug toxicity in our region right now, as well as many many overdoses,” Alison Young of KCHC told Council on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. “These overdoses are increasing in complexity due to the toxicity of the drugs that are currently on our streets.”
Working with Spectra, Young said KCHC hopes to enable people who use street-acquired drugs to chemically analyze them and receive individualized fact-based consultation regarding their contents. The service will be offered in a supervised Consumption Treatment Services (CTS) environment.
“It’s a harm reduction approach,” she said. “It reduces the adverse outcome without necessarily reducing drug use.” She said the approach follows a methodology “of respecting and accepting where the service users are at and empowering them to make more informed decisions on their use in a compassionate and collaborative environment.”
She added that it will also contribute to KCHC and Public Health’s surveillance and monitoring of toxic street drugs. “It will allow for rapid public health messaging on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
Spectra Co-Founder and CEO Malcom Eade also spoke to Council Tuesday night, explaining that their technology can provide analysis of the contents of street drugs to a user in plain language in a matter of minutes, using only a small diluted sample.
“This is what we hope will prevent disasters and empower people,” he said. “This is information that we can use, that will also advise our community drug strategy.”
Dr. Moore speaks to Council about on-going drug crisis
Kingston’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore also took time to address Council on the topic of drug poisoning on Tuesday night. He said Kingston’s most vulnerable are facing a “triple threat” — a long-running opioid crisis, drug poisoning that appears to be getting worse, and a lack of housing.
“The drug supply in our area and across Ontario is just getting more and more toxic and causing more and more harm,” he said.
“We’ve been going through COVID for nine months, we’ve had no deaths. Related to opioids, we’ve had approximately 20 deaths. Young people… cut down in their prime,” he said. “We talk about the years of life lost, the years these people had ahead of them. This is a tremendous loss for our community.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Moore said that Kingston had a higher opioid death rate than other parts of Ontario, as do our neighbouring Public Health regions of Leeds, Grenville & Lanark, and Hastings-Prince Edward County.
“We are not alone, there are other communities suffering just like us. This is an issue across North America, and the pandemic appears to have made it worse,” he said.
“We had 20 confirmed overdose deaths for the first six months of 2020. We had 17 total in the year before,” he said.
He described Fentanyl as the most toxic. It is highly addictive because it gives a euphoric effect that is fast-acting and short-lived, he said, and it is often contaminated or mixed with other toxic substances.
“The grains of sand of fentanyl can kill you.” He noted that overdoses tend to spike in the community whenever “a new batch” of the drug is circulating, with unknown toxic components.
He spoke in support of the drug-checking technology being proposed by KCHC saying it could revolutionize harm-reduction, as well as Public Health’s response alerting the community.
Councillor Jim Neill made a point of asking Young, Eade and Dr. Moore if they thought decriminalizing hard drugs was part of the solution, as implemented by Portugal in 2001. In November, the City of Vancouver voted to decriminalize hard drugs, though the move does not have federal support.
“I think we seriously have to address decriminalizing,” Dr. Moore said. “That’s going to be an essential component of our response and it has worked well in other jurisdictions. The war on drugs hasn’t worked.”
“If they put that money into social support, housing, and treated these individuals as members of the community that needed compassion and care…that’s an approach I think that deserves good study for Ontario, Canada and our region,” he said. “We’ve suffered 20 years of this, with good data to show for it.”