Pubdate: Tue, 22 Aug 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: David Rider
Page: A2


Temporary space a stopgap until the three planned permanent sites open
in fall

Toronto has taken a controversial step to combat overdose deaths,
opening its first city-run site for people to use illegal intravenous

"It provides a safe environment for people who are going to use
drugs," Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's chief public health official,
told reporters outside the building at Victoria and Dundas Sts. that
already houses The Works needle-exchange program.

"We know both through research and lived experience it's highest risk
for overdose and deaths when people . . . use alone," she said. "We
provide a safe environment, a supervised environment for people to use
their drugs safely, so they minimize harm to themselves."

The temporary safe injection site, to be replaced by three bigger
permanent sites this fall, will operate from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday
to Saturday.

In a plain clinical room, up to three people at a time can sit at a
long table and inject drugs and put used needles into a yellow plastic
disposal tub.

Staff expect to keep an eye on up to nine drug users per hour and hope
each will stay at least 15 minutes for rest and observation for any
signs of overdose. The permanent site being built across the hall will
accommodate up to five people at a time and open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.,
seven days a week. The others will be at Queen West Central Toronto
Community Health Centre on Bathurst St. and South Riverdale Community
Health Centre near Carlaw Ave.

Health Canada had previously issued the city permission to host the
sites. The federal agency inspected and approved the temporary site
last week.

The city pushed forward with a temporary site after local
harm-reduction advocates, anxious over a spike in overdose deaths
apparently related to the highly toxic painkiller fentanyl, opened
their own safe-injection site in a tent in Moss Park.

Volunteer Nick Boyce welcomed the city clinic, but said there are no
plans to close the Moss Park site.

"These are people that are injecting drugs in that park already," he
said. "That's why we went there. We're trying to get them away from
the playground, away from the swings, away from the baseball diamond
into a tent where they can use safely, and we can look after them."

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who represents Ward 7 in the Finch
Ave.-Weston Rd. area, arrived at the new site to tell reporters it
will encourage drug use and cause problems in the area.

However, De Villa noted safe injection sites have been running for
years in other cities and said research on them "supports the benefit
of supervised injection services as a harm-reduction measure, not only
for drug users themselves, but also as a method by which to minimize
social harms."

In a statement, Mayor John Tory reiterated he doesn't believe Moss
Park is an "appropriate place" for a safe injection site. Tory did not
say if he will try to get the pop-up site closed down.

Asked Monday about the police response to the Moss Park tent, Toronto
police spokesperson Mark Pugash said: "We'll continue to operate on a
day-by-day basis, but we have no plans to change our position."
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