Pubdate: Sat, 12 Aug 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Salmaan Farooqui
Page: A16


The city is also being urged to declare a public-health emergency amid
a string of overdoses and suspected related deaths

Harm-reduction workers in Toronto are calling for the immediate
opening of interim supervised drug-use spaces and social housing with
a focus on helping drug users as the city deals with a spike in opioid

The demands were among a list of measures issued by the Ontario
Coalition Against Poverty and other advocacy groups on Friday, as they
called for a declaration of a public-health emergency over the issue
and asked for the wide distribution of drug testing kits in the city.

A string of overdoses and suspected overdose deaths has put the issue
of opioid use under the spotlight in Toronto in recent days.

Last week, the city announced it was speeding up the opening of three
supervised drug-use sites and widening the distribution of the
opioid-overdose antidote naloxone to public-health staff, community
agencies and first responders. It also asked local police to consider
having some officers carry naloxone.

More than a dozen harm-reduction workers met with Toronto Mayor John
Tory on Thursday to discuss the recent rise in overdoses. One attendee
described how two workers had to leave early to respond to two
overdoses that took place during the meeting itself.

Mr. Tory said in a statement that the stories he heard from front-line
workers were "heartwrenching" and said he would speak with Ontario's
Health Minister to get more help from the province.

Jacob Nagy, a peer supporter at the Queen West Health Centre said that
providing social housing that caters to drug users, with specific
"harm-reduction beds," would make a difference.

"In a regular shelter bed, if you get caught using, you get discharged
and that's the difference. The harm-reduction beds will turn their
heads if they see you using," said Mr. Nagy, who explained that being
discharged can lead to people using drugs in a less controlled
environment where they could overdose and die.

"People are living in poverty and they're using [drugs] to

He also said that drug users would be less afraid to call 911 if
police only responded to overdose calls while carrying naloxone.

"With the police being there, it makes people feel vulnerable and at
risk of arrest," Mr. Nagy said. "Ultimately, it puts lives at risk."

Advocates also said immediately opening interim drug-use spaces would
save lives while the city prepared three supervised drug-use sites
that are expected to open later this year.

"We're in the midst of a crisis now, and waiting until the fall for
the [supervised drug-use] sites means that more people will die
unnecessarily," said Jessica Hales, a member of the Ontario Coalition
Against Poverty. "Hopefully, we can prevent that by having public
sites available so people can intervene if there's and overdose."

But Councillor Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Drug Strategy
Implementation Panel, said that demand was not feasible as supervised
drug-use sites are governed by federal rules.

He said, however, that the city was doing everything it can to deal
with the rise in overdoses, adding that Toronto needed more action
from the provincial and federal government to make bigger strides.

"Front-line harm-reduction workers are losing their friends, their
co-workers, they're losing their clients, and they're not seeing the
level of intergovernmental response that's required, and I agree with
them," Mr. Cressy said.

"While I'm immensely proud of the committed hard work of city staff …
I'm the first to acknowledge that just as the provincial and federal
governments need to do more, we need to do more as well."
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