Toronto Board of Health to recommend implementing safe-injection sites
TORONTO – The city’s medical officer of health is urging Toronto to introduce supervised drug injection sites for intravenous drug users, according to reports.
David McKeown is reportedly poised to release a report Monday which calls on the city to create between three to five facilities providing a safer atmosphere for drug users to inject pre-obtained narcotics under a nurse’s supervision in order to curtail overdoses.
City Councillor Joe Cressy, the chair of Toronto’s Drug Strategy Implementation Panel , tweeted that safe injection facilities should be a “top public health priority.”
A growing body of research suggests that these sites have other social and health benefits. Dr. Ahmed Bayoumi, a doctor at a downtown Toronto hospital and expert in health services for drug users, said those benefits include fewer HIV and hepatitis C infections, because the provided needles would be unused.
He added that public safety and social benefits include less public litter of needles, and “potentially less crime, because people inject indoors instead of on the street.”
“I think that Toronto would benefit from supervised-injection services, and this is a very good next step in the process of establishing those.”
McKeown’s report echoes a 2013 Board of Health report and eventual vote which sought provincial funding for a pilot project, but was met with opposition from both Queen’s Park and then-mayor Rob Ford.
Establishing supervised-injection sites isn’t a simple process. Due to legislation introduced last year, cities that wish to introduce those services need express permission from the federal health minister.
Joe Cressy, a city councillor and chair of the city’s drug strategy implementation panel, said he doesn’t think that will be a problem.
“The new federal government has publicly stated over and over and over again that they support supervised injection services as a form of evidence-based health policy,” he said. “The previous Conservative government did not support these measures, but the new federal government does. And that’s a good thing.”
McKeown will reportedly recommend housing the safe injection sites on the grounds of existing facilities for drug users, including needle-exchange programs.
Vancouver is currently the only Canadian city with a supervised injection site, although a battle over its safety and constitutionality went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2011. Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin said the controversial facility known as Insite offered “no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada.” Ottawa and Montreal are also weighing whether to create safe injection sites.
With files from Nicole Thompson/The Canadian Press
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