Toronto Mayor John Tory says overdose-prevention sites are saving lives. His comment comes in response to the Ontario government’s announcement this week to put a hold on opening new facilities until a review on the merits of the sites is complete.
“If there’s going to be a review done, it should be done very expeditiously because lives are at stake,” Tory told reporters Wednesday morning, a day after Toronto police issued a public safety alert following the deaths of seven people by overdose since Aug. 2.
“I believe the core purpose of these supervised injection facilities and overdose prevention facilities is saving lives and that it is working.”
Tory said he was heartbroken and angry to hear that seven people died in such a short period of time.
“What we face in this city right now with regard to mental health and addiction issues is a crisis,” he said.
“It is a growing crisis. It affects more people than it ever did before and it is taking more lives.”
Toronto police said a batch of dangerous narcotics is being sold in the downtown core which is believed to be laced with opioids such as fentanyl or carfentanil, the latter being 100 times more potent.
The Progressive Conservative government said part of the review will examine if overdose-prevention sites “have merit” and other factors such as the facilities’ role in getting people into drug treatment programs.
The opening of overdose prevention sites in Thunder Bay, St. Catharines and Toronto have been put on hold. The government said a decision on those sites will be made by the end of September.
“I just want to make sure that when public funds are being expended that supervised injection sites are going to serve their purpose, they are going to save lives, and they are going to help people get into rehab,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday.
Overdose prevention sites are approved by the province and are temporary facilities set up to address an immediate need in a community.
Safe injection sites are more permanent locations approved by the federal government after a more extensive application process.
Harm reduction workers in Toronto such as Zoe Dodd say illicit fentanyl is extremely problematic because many users are unaware of what they are taking.
“There were 1,263 deaths in Ontario, opioid-related deaths last year, 80 per cent of those included illicit fentanyl,” Dodd said.
“So this has completely taken over the drug market and is why we see an increase in overdoses and overdose deaths and will continue to be this way until we have a hold on what we’re doing and how we can do it better.”
Dodd said an overdose prevention site was slated to open at the Parkdale Community Health Centre on Monday, but the province’s push for a review has halted a potentially lifesaving facility from opening.
“I just really implore Christine Elliot to reverse her decision and allow for them to open,” she said.
“You cannot close down these sites when we need them right now to respond to emergencies. It will only get worse and there will only be more deaths.”
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