Despite the opioid crisis taking its toll on Windsor-Essex, the local health unit said the approval of a supervised consumption and treatment site location has been bumped from the city's council agenda for the second month in a row.
Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) CEO Nicole Dupuis said the item was expected to go before council in November, but was moved to December.
However, the matter is now expected to go before council next month on Jan. 17.
At Monday's meeting, Coun. Rino Bortolin said he will bring forward a motion at the next meeting, which will ask councillors to approve the site.
When asked about it during Monday morning's COVID-19 briefing, Dupuis said the health unit was told the delay was because there "wasn't enough room on the agenda."
WECHU is looking to get city approval on the proposed location at 628 Goyeau St., after which it can submit the application to the federal government. Health unit officials have been working on an application for a site since 2019. The board of health signed off on the site in September.
"The public health service's role is to advocate for things that aren't always popular," said Windsor-Essex's acting medical officer of health Dr. Shanker Nesathurai.
"Sometimes the opioid crisis gets less emphasis because of COVID, but it's still going on. This is an important item for the people who live in Windsor-Essex ... I think it's incumbent on all of us to get the safe consumption site up and going so that we can further try to address the opioid crisis."
WECHU Board vice chair and Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin told CBC News Monday that his motion Monday "guarantees" that it will be on the next meeting's agenda.
He said that the mayor's office and senior city administration do an agenda review and decide what makes it in. Bortolin added that November's agenda was pretty heavy and then, aside from today's meeting, there was the budget meeting.
When asked whether the mayor's office could have made this a priority, Bortolin said, "I think so," adding that the question should be directed to the mayor and administration.
"I see it as a priority. I think that there was probably an opportunity to probably move this along quicker, but you know unfortunately it didn't," he said.
26 preliminary deaths in Windsor-Essex: Public Health Ontario
This comes as opioid overdoses continue to spike across the province due to the pandemic.
"This is a number one issue that needs to be on the agenda and looked at," said Lisa Valente, director of Families Stop the Harm group.
"Every single day that we are waiting, we are having people dying. The amount of overdoses and deaths from overdoses that I'm personally seeing the last couple of months has been a lot more than I've ever seen."
Within the first six months of 2021, Public Health Ontario preliminary data reports 26 deaths in Windsor-Essex, with five more listed as probable.
In Windsor-Essex, a record 13 alerts have been issued by the health unit this year alerting the public to a significant number of opioid overdoses in the region.
According to the most recent data on WECHU's website, there have been 343 emergency department visits due to an opioid overdose between January and October this year.
"With all due respect if there's other things on [the city's] agenda, they need to be bumped before this. Like we're bumping lives, how are we going to explain that we're bumping people's lives?" Valente said.
"There's so many other things that could wait till January that don't affect living or dying. It's a state of emergency — this is life or death."