Speeding up the opening of supervised injection sites, providing quicker access to naloxone, and improved public education are just some of the immediate measures being taken by Toronto officials to deal with the recent spike in drug overdose deaths in the city.
“These are unimaginable tragedies and, make no mistake, an overdose death is a preventable death,” Mayor John Tory said following an emergency meeting at city hall Thursday morning. “Today, I asked our first responders to ensure we are doing everything as fast as possible to implement Toronto’s Overdose Action Plan.”
The meeting comes after Toronto police issued a public safety alert with as many as six drug-related fatalities recorded in the city since Thursday.
Investigators are still trying to determine why so many drug deaths occurred in such a short amount of time, but they suspect the fatalities may be linked to heroin laced with fentanyl.
Fentanyl, which is prescribed by a doctor for chronic pain management, is roughly 100 times more potent than morphine and about 40 times stronger than heroin.
“We know over the last several days, and in particular when we look at the period of July 26 to 31, we know that through our information systems that there were a number of presentations of suspected overdoses due to a wide variety of substances, some of which were likely to be opioids, that were seen in our emergency departments,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa told reporters on Thursday.
In March, Toronto’s Board of Health endorsed moving ahead with the Toronto Overdose Action Plan.
It had several recommendations, including the development of evidence-based prevention and response plans, overdose protocols and the use of naloxone, drug checking programs, treatment on demand and supervised injection sites.
“In the end, the focus of this strategy we’ve been putting in place for some time now has been to stop preventable deaths,” Tory told reporters this week.
“Obviously you would like to get a world in which people aren’t using these drugs at all but these are human beings we’re dealing with and there are lots of problems we have in our society you wish didn’t exist, but it’s a reality.”
LISTEN: Toronto Mayor John Tory joins the Morning Show on AM640
Since 2004, there has been a 73 per cent increase in the number of preventable deaths from drug overdose, according to recent health statistic for the city.
The emergency meeting convened on Thursday also committed to better data sharing about overdose information and tracking whether naloxone has been used at calls where paramedics have been dispatched.
Officials also agreed to increase the rate of training to ensure that all Toronto firefighters assigned to stations in high-call areas are equipped to administer naxolone by the end of September.
The mayor also plans to ask city police to consider distributing naloxone to certain officers.
“For some people if you’re already there, stopping drugs when you’re in a cycle of addiction is just not as simple as saying, ‘I’m going to stop,'” de Villa said. “So we have to make harm reduction services available and recognize what is reality.”
WATCH: What’s being done to tackle Toronto’s overdose crisis? Shallima Maharaj reports. (Aug. 2)
In 2010, there were 421 fatal opioid overdoses in Ontario, with 93 of those being opioid and alcohol-related.
In 2015, that number rose dramatically to 551, with 159 deaths related to alcohol and opioids, according to the latest available preliminary data released last month by Ontario’s Chief Coroner.
Eighty-six of those deaths were caused by fentanyl in 2010, with five related to alcohol, which almost doubled to 167 in 2015, with 37 of those related to alcohol.
In total, 710 Ontarians are believed to have died from opioid-related deaths in 2015.
To help limit the number of overdoses in the city, three supervised injection sites will be opening this fall.
Those include The Works Toronto Public Health building on Victoria Street, the Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre on Bathurst Street and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre on Queen Street East.
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With a file from The Canadian Press