Pubdate: Sat, 03 Jun 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Authors: Andrea Woo and Jeff Gray
Page: A8


The federal government has approved three supervised-injection sites
for Toronto, further expanding a contentious harm reduction service in
its latest effort to counter a surging number of overdose deaths in

Illicit fentanyl and chemically similar drugs have caused fatal
overdoses to skyrocket. Opioid overdoses in Ontario increased 11 per
cent in the first half of 2016 compared with the same period the year
before, B.C. is on pace to have 1,400 deaths this year, and
fentanyl-related fatalities in Alberta in the first quarter of 2017
are 60 per cent higher than in the same period last year.

Advocates have pointed to these statistics to underscore the urgency
of opening more supervised injection sites.

Friday's approvals bring the national total to 12.

Until early this year, the only public supervised injection facility
sanctioned by the federal government was in Vancouver, where it has
operated since 2003.

The three Toronto clinics that were approved to supervise injection
drug use already hand out clean needles and are spread across the
centre of the city.

They are The Works, Toronto Public Health's main harm reduction
clinic, which is next to the bright lights of the city's Yonge-Dundas
Square; the Queen West Central Toronto Community Health Centre to the
west; and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre in Leslieville
to the east.

Toronto applied for permission from the federal government last year
to open the sites. In January, the Ontario government pledged
$3.5-million to get them up and running.

The green light follows years of work by local harm-reduction
activists and an effort by advocates in the past year to allay
concerns expressed by Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders and win
approval from Mayor John Tory.

City councillor Joe Cressy, chairman of the city's drug strategy
implementation panel said the three supervised-injection sites should
open before the end of the year: "It's a deeply emotional day," he
said on Friday. "… We've lost a lot of lives over the last number of
years. It hasn't been easy. Today's news means we are going to save
many more."

Mr. Cressy cautioned that the city needs to do much more, citing the
new drug strategy, which includes special training for transit workers
and public-housing staff to deal with overdoses.

"The sea change that has taken place over the last number of years
where we have finally as a society begun to see drug use as a public
health issue and not a criminal justice issue … is going to make life
healthier for our city," Mr. Cressy said.

Overdose deaths have surged in North America because of illicit
fentanyl, carfentanil and other drugs being cut into the street drug

While data on overdose deaths in Ontario lag behind numbers available
in B.C. and Alberta, the most recent figures show an increase: In the
first half of 2016, 412 people died of opioid overdoses - an 11 per
cent increase from the same period in 2015 (371).

Alberta confirmed 443 drug overdose deaths last year, with 68 per cent
(303) linked to fentanyl or another opioid.

In British Columbia, a record 935 people died of illicit drug
overdoses last year, compared with an average of about 250 in the
years before the fentanyl crisis. Fentanyl was detected in about 60
per cent of those deaths.

Ottawa approved four supervised-injection sites last week: three in
British Columbia and one in Montreal.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said Canada's response to the
crisis requires a "whole-of-society approach," and that opening such
sites is but one part.

"International and Canadian evidence demonstrates that, when properly
established and maintained, supervised consumption sites save lives
without increasing drug use or crime in the surrounding area," Dr.
Philpott said in a statement.

"The evidence also shows that they decrease infections and the
transmission of communicable disease, and can also decrease the use of
emergency departments, as well as hospital admissions related to
injection drug use."
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