More than $2M promised for safer drug supply in Waterloo Region

The federal government is committing more than $2.3 million for a safer drug supply project aimed at supporting people with opioid use disorder in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Bardish Chagger, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth and MP for Waterloo and Raj Saini, MP for Kitchener Centre, made the announcement on Friday.The project is led by The Working Centre, and will see a dedicated medical team serve about 200 people over 16 months. The program is available to communities across Waterloo region.

Dr. Chris Steingart, Executive Director of the Sanguen Health Centre, said patients are prescribed medication to try and help replace the street drugs they are addicted to.

“Our goal is to develop really solid robust care plans around everybody, and that’s going to be different for everybody,” he said.

Steingart said he didn’t want to elaborate on what type of drugs are being offered, but that it is consistent with similar programs and aims to have as many items as possible available for patients.

He said the work will need to continue after the funding for this program runs out. Steingart said the number of people who will be helped are just a small fraction of the population that needs this kind of support.

According to Stephanie Mancini, Coordinator with The Working Centre, the number of overdose deaths in the region has doubled since the start of the pandemic. She said in one week during June, there was 39 reported opioid overdoses, including 11 in one day.

“We’re eager to demonstrate what has already been learned in other communities, safer supply prevents unnecessary deaths, supports housing stability, and reduces crime and victimization,” she said.

The federal government has dedicated more than $26 million for similar safer supply projects in Ontario. Kitchener-Waterloo is one of the first communities to try it.

Minister Chagger said COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult to access services during the pandemic. She said the safer supply concept is a form of harm reduction.