Pubdate: Sat, 10 Mar 2018
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2018 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Jeff Gray
Page: A16


More supervised injection sites planned as opioid-overdose numbers

The construction trailer that houses the illegal, volunteer-run
overdose prevention site in Toronto's Moss Park is about to open for
another evening, as a dozen drug users, some clearly anxious for their
fix, cluster around its muddy entrance in the cold.

Activist and harm-reduction worker Zoe Dodd, named one of Toronto Life
magazine's most influential people last year, alongside Foreign
Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and R&B star the Weeknd, unloads an
extra box of anti-overdose naloxone kits from her beat-up sedan.

It has been almost seven months since her band of crowdfunded
volunteers started reversing overdoses in this gritty east end park,
first operating out of flimsy tents that blew away in a windstorm.
They have always said the many desperate drug users who live in this
neighbourhood would shoot up, and potentially die alone, in nearby
alleyways before walking to the city's nearest legal
supervised-injection site near Yonge-Dundas Square, one kilometre away.

Now, after months of delay, a legal, Health Canada-approved
supervised-injection site has opened almost directly across the road,
at the nearby Fred Victor Centre for the homeless. Some of Ms. Dodd's
former volunteers even work there. And echoing the city's long-held
position, Mayor John Tory said this week that with the new, legal site
now open, Ms. Dodd's illegal site should work to transfer its
clientele across the road and leave the park.

But Ms. Dodd says the illegal Moss Park trailer is still needed and
staying put, for now. However, her group now hopes to use new
provincial rules to become authorized, get funding and then find a new
home somewhere near Moss Park.

"Even though Fred Victor opened, we're still so inundated with the
need," Ms. Dodd says as she ushers a bearded man with a backpack into
a small room behind a curtain, where drugusers shoot up with a nurse
standing by. "This is the epicentre of the overdose crisis, Moss Park."

After the province released new numbers this week, showing an
opioid-related death toll of more than 1,000 across Ontario in just
the first 10 months of 2017, Ms. Dodd says governments are going to
have to set up many more supervised-injection sites - even multiple
ones, side-by-side, in areas with high overdose rates - to respond to
the crisis.

This week, St. Stephen's Community House sent letters to neighbours in
Kensington Market, another hotspot for overdoses, announcing that it
has just won approval for a temporary overdose-prevention site there,
set to open in April. The process, launched by the Ontario Ministry of
Health after pressure from activists such as Ms. Dodd, avoids the
lengthy federal approval process for permanent sites, of which Toronto
already has three. St. Stephen's says it will hold an open house for
neighbours next month.

A similar site has already opened in London, Ont. And more such
applications for temporary facilities are expected to surface at
clinics in other parts of Toronto, as well.

Ms. Dodd said the Moss Park site officially applied for that same new
status on Wednesday. She says it was time her operation won legal
status and proper government funding, and stopped relying solely on
volunteers with day jobs.

However, her trailer is still sitting in a city park without a permit,
and without washrooms or running water. She says the city should find
her group a new home nearby, where they could continue their work. And
on Friday, city councillor Joe Cressy, who chairs Toronto's drug
implementation panel, said city officials would start doing just that.

A new home was actually the idea last year, when her operation was
supposed to move into Fred Victor. But talks broke down after the
homeless centre balked at allowing an illegal operation inside its

The homeless centre then pursued opening its own legal site, with the
help of city officials, including Mr. Cressy, who said in early
November that it could win federal approval in mere weeks. It did not
open until Feb. 21.

In an interview, Mr. Tory says he wants the illegal site to move out
of Moss Park after a "transition" period that would see its users move
to the Fred Victor location.

Ms. Dodd says her volunteers are trying to move their regulars over to
Fred Victor, but many of the people who show up every night feel more
comfortable in her trailer, where many of the volunteers are also drug

There is clearly still a demand. Ms. Dodd says as many as 40 or more
people still use her service each night, and that many frequent both
the trailer and Fred Victor, which is open later at night. On Monday
alone, she said, they reversed four overdoses in one night. No one has
died of an overdose while using the site.

According to Jane Eastwood, director of programs at Fred Victor,
between seven and 23 people have used their service each night so far.
She said the centre hopes to get approval from the province to expand
into a 24-hour service.

But both Ms. Eastwood and Ms. Dodd say that, in recent weeks, the
police presence in the area has increased, putting some drug users on
edge. The Moss Park site had enjoyed an arrangement with police that
saw them take a hands-off approach, provided the illegal site closed
its doors at 10 p.m. and volunteers scoured the park for needles.

Several local business owners have complained for months about an
increase in drug use and anti-social behaviour around the park.

Ms. Dodd acknowledges that eventually, her team will have to leave the
park. But if the opioid crisis means there are drug users who need
their services here, she says her volunteers will keep showing up
every afternoon.

"I think it would be great for this to return to a park," Ms. Dodd
says, before taking a bag and some barbecue tongs to look for
discarded needles in the muddy grass. "But we are in a public health
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