Algoma Family Services urges the Ministry to Fund Drug Withdrawal Management Facility


The Algoma Family Services Board of Directors, at its Thursday meeting, passed a resolution urging the Minister of Health and local MPPs to approve the Sault Area Hospital’s proposal for a Level III Withdrawal Management Facility.

“We are following the lead of the Algoma Public Health Board in passing this resolution, to ensure the Minister of Health is aware the community is behind the establishment of a withdrawal management facility,” said, Sherrill Dewar, AFS Board President.

The current opioid poisoning crisis has highlighted the need for increased capacity to serve those with substance use disorders in our area. Recent reports show that 629 people have died in our province in the first half of 2018. The Sault had more than double the rate of opioid-related hospitalizations and ER visits in 2017. “Our youth between 15 and 24 are more likely to experience a mental illness or substance use disorder than other people their age in the province,” said Charles Shamess, the new Sault Ste. Marie and Area Drug Strategy Coordinator employed by Algoma Family Services.

The top recommendation in the soon to be released Sault and Area Drug Strategy Report is to “Increase treatment capacity and expand access to the community-based mental health and substance use services for children and youth (age 14-25) …as we have a critical need for increased youth counsellors and treatment facilities such as youth withdrawal.” A Level III Withdrawal Management program would more than double the number of beds available, from 16 to 33, and would expand the services in that unit to better serve patients and youth.
The report of the Premier’s Council on Improving Healthcare and Ending Hallway Medicine, Hallway Health Care: A System Under Strain (2019) identified that “fair access to health care across the province continues to be a concern.” In fact, Ontario has only three Level III residential withdrawal management services facilities; none of which are located in northern Ontario.

For the past 40 years, the SAH has been operating a level I withdrawal management facility in Sault Ste. Marie, which is no longer adequate for servicing the needs of the community. A Level III residential withdrawal management facility is required in order to provide medically-assisted withdrawal to people with complex substance use disorder, as medically unsupervised withdrawal can be ineffective, dangerous and potentially fatal.

Further to the advocacy of the Mayor and Algoma Public health to the Ministry, local MPPs and the NELHIN to address this urgent funding need; the AFS resolution states the board will write to Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care and area politicians (such as Sault MPP Ross Romano and Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha) to request the approval of funding for a regional Level III residential withdrawal management services facility in Sault Ste. Marie.

The resolution also states correspondence of the resolution will be copied to the federal Minister of Health, MPPs across northeastern Ontario, the Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario, the Boards of Health of northeastern Ontario, the councils of Algoma municipalities and the Sault Area Hospital CEO.

According to Ali Juma, Algoma Family Services CEO, “The time to take action is now. We are losing too many people, specifically our young people to substance use overdose and poisoning. I applaud the AFS Board for passing this resolution and their conviction as community members to the well-being of children and youth of the communities we serve”.
Algoma Family Services is a multi-service agency providing specialized services including youth addictions counselling through its Alternatives for Youth and school-based mental health services.