TORONTO – Officials in Toronto are trying to partially open three safe injection sites months earlier than anticipated, due to a rise in overdoses and deaths.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said “interim safe injection sites” will be opened at three Health Canada-approved permanent sites until renovations to the long-term facilities are complete.
“We’re trying to open them as quickly as possible,” she said, adding that, while she didn’t have an exact date, the sites could be up and running in a matter of days.
Coun. Joe Cressy, a member of Toronto’s board of health, said he’d spoken to city health officials about the accelerated opening.
“We are hoping, at this point, to be in a position to have them open within a week,” he said.
Toronto Public Health is opening one of the interim sites. It said in a statement that the sites will be a safe, hygenic place for people to inject drugs they’ve bought beforehand under medical supervision.
The other two interim sites will be at community health centres not run by the city.
The effort comes after harm reduction workers began setting up an unsanctioned safe injection site in a downtown Toronto park, saying the space is needed as the city grapples with a string of overdoses and suspected overdose deaths.
“I have been changed by grief and so have the people around me,” Zoe Dodd of the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance told Global News.
“And they are just tremendously destroyed by losing people in their lives and we cannot bear witness to this any longer.”
“Yes, we have been seeing an increase – and that’s why we’re talking about accelerating and expediting the plans we already had in place,” da Villa said.
As the interim sites open, she added, staff will work to ensure that the permanent safe injection sites open as quickly as possible.
“There are lots of logistics, lots of things that need to be taken care of,” she said – both in opening the interim sites, and preparing for longer-term facilities.
Da Villa didn’t have details on exactly how many staff members would be present at either interim or long-term facilities.
Last week, harm reduction workers said immediately opening interim drug use spaces would save lives while the city’s three supervised injection sites were constructed.
The three permanent safe injection sites were originally slated to open in the fall. Earlier this month, the city announced it would speed up the opening of all three sites, as well as widening the distribution of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone to public health staff, community agencies and first responders.
It also asked local police to consider having some officers carry naloxone.
A statement from Toronto police deputy chief Mike Federico advised anyone dealing with an overdose to call 911.
“To the Toronto Police Service, an overdose call is a medical emergency, not a law enforcement issue,” it read.
“Our job is to get treatment to those who need it as soon as possible.”
Toronto Public Health’s most recent data on opioid fatalities indicates that 87 people died from opioid use in the first half of 2016, with 135 deaths in 2015.
—With files from Shallima Maharaj
© 2017 The Canadian Press