In the midst of an opioid crisis that continues to devastate families in northeastern Ontario, an in-hospital residential addiction and detox program – that “helps save lives”, is on the chopping block at the North Bay Regional Health Centre (NBRHC).

Funding cuts for hospital services are resulting in bed, program and staff cuts across Ontario. In North Bay the latest casualty of the Conservative government hospital funding shortfall is the in-patient, Residential Addiction Treatment Centre/Program/Service with 29 beds, CUPE learned recently. Also, two designated crisis beds are being “redeployed”, potentially to a service in the community.

Since May 2019, in North Bay, there have been 138 reported drug-related overdoses, six of those resulted in death. Forty-five of the overdoses are attributable to ‘purple heroin’ often a toxic mix of fentanyl, butyryl fentanyl, and carfentanil.

“Defunding an in-patient program that helps stabilize those dealing with addiction will mean more people will die. There is substantial evidence that people with addictions have a much better chance of getting clean if they receive residential care and supports. We should be removing the barriers to care, not eliminating access by closing an urgently needed 29-bed program,” said Michael Hurley the president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE).

The rate of hospitalizations for opioid overdoses is (according to Canadian government data) two and half times higher in smaller cities – like North Bay - with populations of 50,000 – 99,999 - than in large cities. Emergency room visits related to opioid use in North Bay are well above the provincial average.

“Offering only day programs means that people will be forced to go home, often where others are still using; be subject to the same stressors and many will relapse. For some, relapse will be fatal. Many will wind up in the North Bay hospital’s emergency department. What we get when people can’t access residential treatment or crisis care, is treatment through an already overloaded emergency room or death,” said Hurley.

He urged the MPP from Nipissing to intervene to secure the funding to keep North Bay’s hospital residential addiction and detox treatment program open. A vigil ceremony is planned for Monday, December 23 (at 5 p.m.) in front of MPP Vic Fedeli’s downtown North Bay constituency office. A hospital workplace action in the New Year is also being organized.

“Mr. Fedeli has vehemently denied that his government is cutting hospital funding and services. Now it is clear that the cuts are real and that they will have real victims. The elimination of this residential addiction treatment program demands his urgent attention. Few MPPs are as well positioned to come to the aid of their communities,” said Hurley.