Pubdate: Thu, 02 Nov 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Jeff Gray
Page: A15


The City of Toronto and the province are asking the federal Minister
of Health for the "immediate approval" of a proposed indoor supervised
drug-use site at an east-end homeless centre where an illegal outdoor
site has been operating for months.

In a letter to Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor dated Oct. 31,
Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins say
the illegal site, set up in Moss Park near Sherbourne Street and Queen
Street East, has saved many lives since it was launched in August by
reversing overdoses in a neighbourhood that had been hit by an
increase in such deaths.

"However, operating this type of health service in a park is not
sustainable not least because winter is approaching," the letter
reads. "The overdose prevention site has clearly demonstrated the need
for an SIS [supervised injection service] in the Moss Park

Ms. Petitpas Taylor, speaking to reporters in Toronto on Wednesday,
acknowledged she had received the letter from Dr. Hoskins and Mr. Tory
but not a formal application, or Dr. Hoskins' approval, for the
permanent site that the letter advocates.

She said she has instructed her staff to expedite the application when
it arrives, but she could not say how long it would take to approve
it. However, she said two to four weeks was not an impossible timeline.

The letter, provided to The Globe and Mail by the mayor's office, says
the Fred Victor Centre, an independent charitable agency, is applying
this week for an exemption in order to operate a legal, supervised
drug-use site at its Queen Street East location near Moss Park. The
two politicians said that, while the process usually takes "several
weeks," they would like this new site granted a "short-term or
conditional exemption to enable the service to open as soon as possible."

The request comes as the activist group currently running the illegal
Moss Park sitesays it intends to stay put in the park. Toronto Harm
Reduction Alliance, at a press conference on Wednesday, said it may
try to bring in a heated trailer, even without a city permit, as the
temperature drops - although it hopes the city will co-operate.

The activists, most of whom are harm-reduction workers at other
clinics, said they have stopped or reversed 85 overdoses since the
popup launched Aug. 12, with no deaths while the site was up and
running from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. each day. But they warn that the rate
of overdoses is increasing, with 28 at the site in September and 43 in
October, as the increasing contamination of the street-drug supply
with the superpowerful opioid fentanyl fuels the crisis.

"We would like to stay," pop-up site organizer Zoe Dodd said. "We are
not going to abandon the people of Moss Park."

Ms. Dodd said that, even if some solution is found to allow for a
legal supervised injection site near Moss Park, more pop-up sites,
illegal or otherwise, are needed in other places across the city and
the entire province as overdose deaths increase.

Governments, she said, should declare a state of emergency and simply
allow people to skirt the law to save lives, pointing to moves made by
the B.C. government. (The Ontario government has refused to declare a
health emergency, saying legislation here is different and that such a
declaration would not help.)

Toronto rushed to open its first legally approved supervised drug-use
site in the summer near Yonge-Dundas Square, after the activists set
up in Moss Park.

Two more legal sites, one in a clinic in Leslieville and another near
Queen and Bathurst streets, are set to open this fall.

Advocates and health officials say the sites help prevent deaths by
allowing drug users to shoot up with a nurse on hand who can intervene
and administer the anti-overdose drug naloxone in the event of an overdose.

In an e-mailed statement late on Wednesday, Dr. Hoskins said he had
already sent his formal approval for the Fred Victor site to Ottawa,
and pledged to fully fund the facility.

The federal minister said she recognizes there is a public-health
crisis around opioids but that her government is not contemplating
suspending the application process for the exemptions from drug laws
needed to operate supervised drug-use sites.

"We are taking this matter extremely seriously," Ms. Petitpas Taylor
said. "… We recognize that winter is fast approaching. And we want to
ensure that clients, that individuals receive the treatment that they
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