Opioid crisis won’t abate without treatment options, supportive housing: Peterborough MP Michelle Ferreri

Clifford Skarstedt Examiner
From left, MP Michelle Ferreri, Mayor Jeff Leal, MPP Dave Smith and Peterborough County Warden Bonnie Clark take part in the return of Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce Power Hour event held at the Peterborough Curling Club on Friday.

Peterborough & Kawarthas annual Power Hour took place Friday

By Joelle KovachReporter

Friday, February 23, 2024

Peterborough-Kawartha MP Michelle Ferreri told a business crowd Friday that the opioid crisis won’t likely abate until more treatment options are available, Canada stops offering an untainted supply of drugs to people and drug dealers are held to account.

“Most importantly: you need to go after the criminals selling this crap,” she said. “And you cannot make it legal.”

Ferreri was taking part in the Peterborough & Kawarthas annual Power Hour, where local elected officials take part in a lunch-hour panel discussion.

Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith, Mayor Jeff Leal and Peterborough County Warden Bonnie Clark were all on the panel too; they spoke in front of more than 100 people in the hall at the Peterborough Curling Club on Lansdowne Street West.

In a far-reaching discussion that carried on for about 90 minutes, the officials were asked for their views on climate change, homelessness and unemployment.

One evergreen topic: the lack of serviced properties for any big employers who might like to locate in Peterborough.

Mayor Leal, who’s said the city is interested in extending cross-border services to neighbouring townships that have land but no water, wastewater or electrical capacity, said a city staff report is coming March 11 that will be a game changer.

He didn’t offer any details.

“But I’ve had the opportunity to review the report, and I think it (the issue) is going in a very positive, direct way,” he said.

Later when the subject of opioids arose, Ferreri said the Conservatives don’t think much of the idea of doctors in Canada being allowed to offer untainted drugs to people, as a safer alternative to ultra-potent or sometimes tainted street drugs.

Though some medical experts have argued it’s life-saving, Ferreri said there’s data to show it doesn’t help anyone (she didn’t cite any source of data).

Ferreri further said she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to prioritize housing for people without homes unless there are “supports” offered too (such as intensive treatment to help with addiction).

She cited the example of the 50 new tiny homes in the Rehill parking lot on Wolfe Street, which the city bought with provincial funding.

Ferreri mentioned that people are receiving care there from the social agency Elizabeth Fry Society.

But she thinks intensive treatment is best: “You need investment in housing with supports,” she said.

“You went from survival mode to sitting alone with your thoughts. That’s a very challenging transition for folks… It is one thing to meet people where they are at – it’s another thing to leave them there… That is not compassionate leadership.”

“There is no silver bullet to fix this,” said MPP Smith of the opioid crisis.

Smith said “there’s nothing wrong with harm reduction” — strategies aimed at reducing the risk, for drug users, such as the safer drug supply.

But if harm reduction is the sole measure being taken to help drug users, Smith said, “that’s offering palliative care. The person will ultimately die of their addiction.”

It’s better to offer what Smith described as a “buffet approach” to treatment — meaning a full array of services and care — and allow people to choose what works for them.

“Because there isn’t a linear path to sobriety,” Smith said.

Warden Clark, who is a nurse, said she’s observed a profound lack of psychiatrists locally.

“We do not have the psychiatrists to give the treatment that is needed… There is a huge, huge wait-list (for psychiatric care),” she said.

Clark said sometimes it means patients — including children and young people — are left waiting “more than half a year” to be seen by a psychiatrist.

Mayor Jeff Leal said that while the federal government works on offering dental care and pharmacare for Canada — and those are good, he said — the need for mental healthcare and addiction help could possibly be the higher priority.