Pubdate: Tue, 15 Aug 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Jeff Gray
Page: A6


After a wave of overdose deaths, Toronto public health officials are
scrambling to open interim supervised drug-use sites, including one in
a harm-reduction clinic near Yonge-Dundas Square that could be
operating within days.

The move, announced by the city's medical officer of health on Monday,
comes after volunteer front-line workers and activists set up a
controversial pop-up supervised drug-use site in an east-end park. The
group, calling itself the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance, says the
city has been dragging its feet in responding to the opioid crisis.

Mayor John Tory and public health officials have pledged to step up
their efforts in recent days as reports of deaths from opioid
overdoses made headlines, promising to speed up work on its planned
three supervised sites. The sites will allow drug users to shoot up in
the presence of a nurse, and the anti-overdose drug naloxone will be
on hand in case something goes wrong.

On Monday, Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, told
reporters officials are still working as quickly as they can to get
the three permanent sites ready to open this fall. But she said they
now hope to open interim sites at the three clinics - The Works at
Yonge-Dundas Square, the South Riverdale Community Health Centre and
the Queen West Central Toronto Community Health Centre - as soon as

Officials say an interim site at The Works, Toronto Public Health's
own clinic, should be ready within a week. It was not clear how soon
those at the two independent health centres would open. Dr. de Villa
defended the time it was taking the city to open its supervised
drug-use sites, saying the clinics need to be retrofitted to ensure
safety for both patients and staff.

Unlike the activists running the pop-up tents, who reached a deal for
police to take a hands-off approach, the city's temporary sites will
operate with the same legal exemptions granted by Ottawa for the
permanent sites.

The announcement came after a conference call on Monday morning
involving public-health officials, police, Mr. Tory and councillor Joe
Cressy, chair of the Toronto drugstrategy implementation panel and a
champion of supervised drug-use sites.

Mr. Cressy said the permanent sites would be open already if it had
not taken nine months for federal and provincial approvals and
funding, which came through in June.

"I understand that for some activists, they sought to fill a void. And
while the city cannot break the law to fill that void, I can't blame
the activists for stepping in," Mr. Cressy said. "… The long-term
solution is not to have unsanctioned sites in parks, but adequate and
sustainable and funded sites throughout the city."

Mr. Tory said he had spoken with the provincial and federal
governments on Monday and issued a statement saying opening the
interim sites was the right thing to do: "Every overdose death in our
city is a tragedy and is preventable."

The unsanctioned pop-up site in Moss Park, at Queen Street East and
Sherbourne Street, is in a neighbourhood well known for drug use and
homelessness. At about 5 p.m. on Monday, it was devoid of drug users,
as TV reporters interviewed organizers and a half-dozen news trucks
lined Queen Street.

But over the weekend, about 40 people used drugs here, activists said.
One man had an overdose on Sunday night, they said, but was revived
with naloxone even before paramedics arrived.

Activists running the site say they have not decided whether to shut
down when the city opens its interim locations. Organizer Zoe Dodd, a
harm-reduction worker with the South Riverdale Community Health
Centre, said all three levels of government have dropped the ball
responding to the opioid crisis.

Legal pop-up sites, or even mobile supervised drug-use services that
can visit different neighbourhoods, must also become part of the plan,
she said.

"Over a year and a half ago, I said we were living in hell," Ms. Dodd
said. "… I just feel like we've been abandoned by politicians."
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