Federal Government approves supervised injection sites in Toronto News

(Courtesy: The Blade/Dave Zapotosky)

By: Anna O’Brien

Health Canada has approved three supervised injection sites for Toronto, advancing the efforts to combat a surging number of drug overdoses in the country.

The proliferation of Fentanyl and similar opioids has caused a significant increase in overdose deaths. According to data from the Ontario’s Interactive Opioid Tracker, 730 people died from opioid-related overdoses in the province in 2015, with 135 in Toronto.

Across the country 2,458 in 2016 according the Health Canada.

Toronto Public Health reported 205 hospitalizations and 506 emergency department visits during that year.

Patricia Erickson, a professor at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, told Humber News she believes this is a great step forward in drug policy.

“I started addiction research in 1973, and I thought it was an interesting subject but it will be legalized soon and I’ll move on,” said Erickson. “Well, now it’s 2017, and here I am still fighting.

“It’s about time,” she said.

The sites will be located in downtown Toronto and will allow people to use drugs under the supervision of a medical professional. They will be based at Toronto Public Health’s The Works near Yonge and Dundas, the South Riverdale Community Health Centre in Leslieville and the Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre.

Toronto applied for permission from the federal government last year to open the sites. In January, the Ontario government pledged almost $4 million to get the process started. The sites are a part of the government’s approach to combat the current overdose epidemic. They will provide sterile equipment, information about drugs, basic health care and addiction treatment referrals.

Until now the only public harm reduction facility authorized by the federal government was in Vancouver. The supervised injection site, which has been operating since 2003, averages 500 injections a day. In 14 years of operation, it has never recorded a fatal overdose.

Eugene Oscapella, a lecturer on drug policy in the department of criminology at the University of Ottawa, spoke to Humber News about harm reduction and the benefits of safe injection sites.

“We actually do a great disservice to people by prohibiting these drugs,” said Oscapella. “Supervised injection sites are just the beginning. We are truly saving lives.”

The Canadian Harm Reduction website defines harm reduction as the “policies, programs and practices that aim to reduce the negative health, social and economic consequences that may ensue from the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs, without necessarily reducing drug use.”

It focuses on public health, human rights and social justice. Through educating the public, its intention is to benefit people who use drugs, families and communities.

City counsellor Joe Cressy currently chairs the city’s drug strategy, and spoke with CBC on Saturday about how he has always supported the idea of the sites and how he has been involved in the process for the past 10 years.

“We’re thrilled that this life-saving measure will finally now be coming to Toronto, but we’re also devastated that so many lives were lost before they will have opened,” Cressy told the CBC.

“All levels of government must work together if we are to save lives amid the growing opioid crisis in Canada. Supervised injection services have been effective in other communities in preventing death, illicit drug use and in reducing health risks,” said Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins and Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a joint statement released last Friday.

The sites are set to open at the end of 2017.

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