Hamilton health board approves new opioid pilot program

Jun 27, 2023

Earlier in June, Hamilton’s Public Health Board unanimously voted to implement a new action plan created to address the ongoing opioid crisis. Specifically, the plan includes an 18-month pilot project which aims to prevent overdose deaths in the city. 

According to Melissa Biksa, manager of Mental Well-being and Substance Use for Hamilton Public Health, the pilot has three main goals: to decrease the number of opioid deaths, reduce the harms caused by opioid use and improve access to different treatment options. 

The pilot was also designed to mirror a safer-use program at the YWCA’s downtown overnight drop-in space for women and gender-diverse people who are homeless.

As part of the opioid action plan, Hamilton will scale up safe consumption sites across the city, develop safe use policies in the city’s hospitals, provide support to primary caregivers, and increase drug testing programs in the first six months of the program. The city also plans to offer an “Opioid Action Table,” which would include individuals with experience of addiction, as well as health and social service workers. 

Subsequently, at six months, youth prevention programs will be implemented, while family supports will be expanded and shelter access will be increased. In addition, the city plans to improve access to healthcare providers for individuals suffering from addiction. 

Finally, the city will increase the number of doctors who could provide safer supply programs, expand stabilization services to provide support systems for patients, increase rapid detox and treatment programs and further increase safe consumption sites in men’s shelters. 

However, concerns have been raised over Hamilton homeless shelters not having enough capacity to expand services, as part of the city’s action plan, thereby making it difficult to find a location to launch the pilot.  “The shelter system right now is quite pressured and struggles to maintain the staffing they have even now, so I don’t think this will be easy but I think it’s a necessary step,” said Michelle Baird, director of Housing Services, in her interview with CBC News.. 

In April, Hamilton’s city council declared a state of emergency due to homelessness, opioid addiction, and mental health issues in the city. In the first four months of 2023, there were 336 opioid-related paramedic calls in Hamilton, which was more than the same period in 2021 and 2022, according to a Hamilton city staff report.