Pubdate: Tue, 19 Sep 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Page: 10


News that Toronto is one big step closer to a long-term safe injection
site is most welcome, particularly as this city, like many in North
America, grapples with a growing opioid addiction crisis. It's also a
reminder of the important work ahead.

In the month since a pop-up injection site opened in Moss Park, the
volunteer staff has accommodated nearly 2,700 visits and administered
26 doses of naloxone, the antidote to these deadly drugs.

As City Councillor Joe Cressy told the Star's David Rider last week,
the Moss Park project provides yet further proof that safe-injection
sites work and underscores the need for more of them.

Cressy announced that, with winter approaching, the Moss Park site,
currently operating out of a tent, will likely move to a nearby
building. That's a good thing. Such sites have been shown to reduce
the risk of overdose and needle-transmitted disease, while increasing
the likelihood that users will get the help they need.

"Three years ago, when I started working on safe injection, the
question was, 'Should we do it?'" Cressy told Rider. "Now the question
is, 'Why can't we do it sooner to save lives?'"

Toronto's embrace of safe-injection sites is a key step as the city
seeks a smarter approach to the prevention and treatment of drug
addiction, especially amid the opioid crisis. But a comprehensive
approach requires a level of information and transparency the city has
so far refused to adopt.

Crucial data, such as up-to-date numbers on opioid-related overdose
deaths, are simply not available.

In June the Public Health Agency of Canada released a study revealing
that nearly 2,500 Canadians died from opioid overdoses in 2016, but
it's impossible to tell how many died in Toronto because the city's
most recent statistical report on opioid addiction is from 2015.

The statistics are grim, and show a steep uptick in opioid-related ER
visits and deaths starting five years ago. By 2015, 200 Torontonians
were hospitalized as a result of opioid use. That year, 129 people
suffered fatal opioid overdoses in Toronto, compared with 56 who died
by homicide.

But the data available are episodic and incomplete. Detailed
information on the dimensions of the problem and what is working and
what is not is essential if Toronto is going to have a comprehensive
drug strategy.

The provincial government recently committed $222 million, spread over
three years, to the city's anti-opioid programs. A permanent downtown
safe-injection site is an excellent step in the right direction. But
the wise and accountable spending of the province's money will require
a real commitment to good data and transparency.
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