Kingston has been extremely successful at combating the “shadow epidemic” of drug poisoning deaths and overdose, but a lack of funding now threatens that success, according to a dedicated group of community advocates who hope to bring this to the attention of the provincial Ministry of Health.
This Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, the group is staging a rally at the local office of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, asking Health Minister Christine Elliot to provide ongoing funding for Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub (ICH). The group is concerned that the ICH, which has reversed hundreds of drug poisonings since opening in 2020, may have to close its doors in April due to a lack of continued, stable funding.
Jeremy Milloy, Ph.D., who is the Lead for Integrity of Creation and Climate Change at the Providence Centre For Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation and is one of the main organizers of the event, explained, “ICH was opened on an emergency basis because the drug poisoning and overdose crisis, which a lot of people call the ‘shadow pandemic,’ is killing people in our community. It’s killing people across the province.”
Kingston, however, he said, “is one of the only Public Health areas in the province to experience a decline in death by drug poisoning over the last year. That is a testament to the amazing work of the ICH and effectiveness of the ICH’s model.” The ICH provides safe consumption treatment services, allowing drug users a safe space to use with trained professionals on-site to render help if needed, as well as offering wraparound services for those with drug dependency in terms of connections to local support services, such as addictions and mental health counselling.
In a press release, the rally organizers pointed out that “the ICH’s innovative, evidence-based model is fostering a robust community to respond to issues raised by drug use in the community and is a recognized best practice in responding to Kingston’s drug poisoning and overdose crisis. Maintaining this service in Kingston is a life-or-death issue for people at-risk of drug poisoning in the community.”
Milloy said that unfortunately “there is not a stable stream of consistent funding for this life-saving health care in our community. The City started this on an emergency basis, on a pilot basis. The work the ICH does is excellent and life-saving. The City is funding it until the end of March.”
However, Milloy pointed out, “Ultimately, health care is a provincial responsibility, right? That’s how our federal system is set up in Canada. That’s why we pay our taxes to the federal government — the federal government transfers money to the provinces so that they can run health care, and this is absolutely essential [to] the health care community. It needs a stable provincial stream of funding.”
The group conveyed that they will gather at noon on Friday, Feb. 25, at 49 Place D’Armes so that “Kingstonians [can] bring our hearts and voices to the local office of the Provincial Ministry of Health and tell Health Minister Christine Elliott what our community needs: ongoing funding so that the ICH and its evidence-based solutions to the drug poisoning crisis can continue with stability.”
Candice M. Christmas, MA, PhD(C), who is a professor of Health Policy and Equity at York University in Toronto and who recently led and authored an ICH Community Needs Assessment, will be at the rally, where her document will get a public reading. This will highlight, “that the community knows what we need, knows the ICH is invaluable and demands that the community have what we need to care for ourselves. Minister Elliott needs to step up to save lives here in Kingston,” the group explained.
According to the aforementioned Needs Assessment, “The Shadow Epidemic of overdose will not disappear after the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control… We must address the stigma and intergenerational trauma that is perpetuated through moral injury and making people feel less than human, people who are already in terrible emotional and physical pain. This will lead to a reduction in chronic homelessness, which, in turn, leads to significantly reduced costs to our healthcare, criminal justice, and social welfare systems.”
“A commitment to health justice and healing-centred engagement with our most marginalized citizens, along with the intellects and hearts of our healers and helpers, can lead to a new paradigm that will save lives and tax dollars,” the report states. The full ICH Needs Assessment can be read here.
When asked about what will happen after municipal funding for ICH runs out at the end of March, the City of Kingston’s Housing and Social Services department provided the following statement: “Understanding the critical services the Integrated Care Hub provides, staff from HIV Aids Regional Services (HARS), Addiction & Mental Health Service (AMHS), Kingston Community Health Centres (KCHC), the City of Kingston and Ontario Health Team have been working with the Ministry of Health for almost a year to secure provincial multi-year funding. City of Kingston staff are expecting to bring an update at the March 22, 2022 Council meeting.”