Pubdate: Sun, 27 Aug 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Jayme Poisson
Page: A6


Temporary clinic has been open for a week in building at Victoria and
Dundas Sts.

It has been nearly one week since Toronto opened its first city-run
site for people to use illegal intravenous drugs and, so far, three
dozen people have used the controversial service.

"We are thrilled to be offering this life-saving service to the
community," Dr. Rita Shahin, Toronto Public Health's associate medical
officer of health, said Saturday.

"The very first client that we had when we opened our doors, to us,
represents a potential life that we may have saved. We had 36 visits
in just five days, which . . . represents a great success. We look
forward to more people becoming aware of the service and helping more
people in our community."

The temporary clinic, located at Victoria and Dundas Sts. in a
building that already houses The Works needle-exchange program, has
been open since Monday.

In a plain clinical room, up to three people at a time can inject
pre-obtained drugs with clean needles. Staff - two trained nurses, two
counsellors and a manager - can keep an eye on up to nine drug users
per hour and hope each will stay at least 15 minutes for rest and
observation and signs of overdose.

The site is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

City staff did not deal with any overdoses this week at the temporary
site, Shahin said. Nor was there need to administer Naloxone, an
antidote for the powerful opioid fentanyl, a drug responsible for a
growing number of overdose-related deaths.

Health Canada had previously approved three larger permanent safe 
injection sites for Toronto: one in the building where the temporary 
site is now located, as well as one in South Riverdale and one in 
Parkdale. They were expected to open this fall.

But after local harm-reduction advocates, concerned about an
increasing number of overdoses, many of which are apparently related
to the highly toxic painkiller fentanyl, opened their own unsanctioned
"pop up" safe injection site in a tent in Moss Park, the city pushed
ahead with its temporary site.

That "pop up" site in Moss Park has been operating for two weeks, from
4 to 10 p.m. daily.

About 20 to 25 people inject on site each day and an additional 20
people smoke crack or methamphetamine, Nice Boyce, a volunteer at the
site, said on Saturday.

The Moss Park site has stopped or reversed 12 overdoses and volunteers
(80 in total, 25 of them medically trained) have closely monitored
many more at-risk people, according to Boyce. "These are all people
who would have died, ended up in emergency costing thousands of
dollars, or would have been prone to assault."

Boyce said some of the same people come every day and there are no
plans for the "pop up," funded by donations from a GoFundMe page, to
shut down now that the city site is up and running. In fact, Boyce
said organizers of the Moss Park site are exploring implementing a
program for people to check their drugs for fentanyl.

For some people, the downtown city-run site may be too far for them to
travel, Boyce said. And for others, who are used to injecting in
alleyways, they feel more comfortable in the tent in the park rather
than the more sterile clinic-like environment, he added.

Toronto police have so far allowed the unsanctioned site to operate.
Last week, a department spokesperson, Mark Pugash, said police have
met with the organizers and agreed on "a number of conditions which we
think go a long ways towards minimizing risks to public safety."

"We'll continue to operate on a dayby-day basis, but we have no plans
to change our position," Pugash said.

As for the city-run site, which has had fewer visitors in its first
week than the Moss Park "pop up," Shahin said that because the site
opened so quickly there wasn't a lot of time or opportunity to promote
the service.

- - With files from David Rider and Betsy Powell
- ---
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