It’s election season in northwestern Ontario!

Q104, KenoraOnline and DrydenNow asked each Council and Mayor candidate for their thoughts on a variety of issues in the community, and we’ll be running a series of articles with candidates’ responses.

Do you support the Northwestern Health Unit investigating the possibility of a Safe Injection Site, and the use of other harm reduction services to tackle the region’s social issues?

- Shayne MacKinnon
“Safe consumption site, needle exchange programs are either a reality or being contemplated in many cities in Canada. The devastating effects of addiction, overdoses and overdose deaths haunt every community.

Dryden has not felt the full effects of these situations until recently but it is wise to survey communities to see what the public will support. What we desperately need is facilities for detoxification, treatment and aftercare to address addictions. There are very limited options in our community and region so a new City council must be kept up to speed and advocate where needed for those services.”

- Jack B. Harrison
“I feel saddened that we need to consider a Safe Injection Site, where illegal drugs are brought in by users, so they can cause harm to their bodies while being under government supervision.

I understand that we are trying to protect the users from overdosing and society from the irresponsible use of needles. However, is this the best strategy and use of our limited resources? Are we putting enough of our resources into providing mental health and addiction centres so that they are available for them to be treated and gain their lives back?

I look forward to the NW Health Unit sharing the Supervised Consumption Services feasibility study which should be coming out soon and engaging in a dialogue on how to best help those who are suffering from drug addiction.”

- Martin MacKinnon
“I totally support the Northwest Health Unit in all its advocacy for services that can only make our community a safer and healthier place. They care.”

- Catherine Kiewning
“Yes, for a safer community, having a safe consumption site as well as a shelter and detox or addiction treatment center is critical.

Dryden needs to tackle its social issues with compassion and evidence-based solutions that maintain the dignity of its citizens. There is no universe where punishing people with addictions helps communities.

However, just creating a safe consumption site to address drug use in the community isn't the only solution- we need a safe homeless shelter, a treatment centre and trauma-informed mental health counselling/treatment.

When properly established, these sites and services:

- reduce the risk of accidental overdose, because people are not rushing or using alone,
- connect people to social services like housing, employment assistance and food banks,
- provide or connect people to healthcare and treatment,
- reduce public drug use and discarded drug equipment,
- reduce spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV,
- reduce strain on emergency medical services, so they can focus on other emergencies,
- provides space for people to connect with staff and peers, which can help a person moderate their drug use and decide to pursue treatment"

- Brad Pareis
“As opposed to adding a new program, it seems that expanding the already established RAAM (Rapid Access Addiction Medicine) clinic, which offers counselling and opioid replacement therapy might be more effective.”

- Bill Latham
“Presently the Northwestern Health Unit has been leading a feasibility study related to creating a supervised consumption site in Dryden.

Other services often provided at supervised consumption sides include:
-Basic and emergency health care,
-Drug-checking resources to detect if drugs contain unexpected or more harmful substances,
-Access or referrals to other medications, health-care services and additional social services like housing or employment support,

The feasibility study final report should be ready by the end of October. Yes, I support the work that the NWHU and DRHC are doing and look forward to reviewing the report.”

- Bryan Tardiff
“Not at this time. We have neither the funding or available health services to maintain such a project.”

- Ritch Noel
“I have stated my opposition to a safe injection site from the beginning of my campaign.  The rate of violent drug-related crime in this area is staggering.

The question above refers to ‘social issues’. The problem, exactly, is substance abuse. The way to address that problem is not to reduce the harm, but rather to fix the underlying issues that lead to this disease. Addiction is a disease, not a social issue and we are significantly lacking treatment options for those suffering from the throws of addiction.

There is only one detox facility that I am aware of in the area.  The opioid crisis demands specialized treatment and detox that may differ from other substances. We need to look at not only the suffering addicts, but also the members of the public who are subject to the crime and violence that has resulted.

Every addict is someone’s son, daughter, mother or father.  Harm reduction is an ill-conceived, though sellable term. If one is being continuously harmed, let's say you are being attacked with a bat or other weapon, would you want the attack to be reduced or would you rather it stop? That is my view on harm reduction and safe injection sites. This issue is the most important one for me at this point.”

- David Burch (added afterwards)
"I support the Northwestern Health Unit doing any research they need into developing programs that could benefit our community, as long as the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

I know our community is struggling to deal with substance abuse and addiction issues, but is a safe injection site the best solution? I think not, which is why I have already begun preliminary unofficial talks with members of sister communities about collaborating and partnering together on a rehabilitation and treatment facility.

This facility would not be located in town but would be close enough community members could easily access its services. In this way, our surrounding neighbours and local agencies can bring this much-needed resource to our area."

Every candidate was asked for their responses to five questions related to issues in the community. As of the time of publishing, we did not receive responses from Michelle Price.

Advanced voting is underway in Kenora and voting begins in Dryden on October 14. The Municipal election will wrap up on October 24.