London’s temporary overdose prevention site on track to remain open through October

An injection kit at London's temporary overdose prevention site, picture on Feb 12th, 2017. Liny Lamberink / 980 CFPL

Pending federal approval, the Middlesex-London Health Unit has confirmed to 980 CFPL that London’s temporary overdose prevention site (TOPS) will stay open for at least another month.

Funding for the site was set to run out at the end of September.

Late Friday afternoon, Christine Elliott, the province’s health minister, released a statement saying the government was asking Ottawa to extend Ontario’s class exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), which is needed to legally operate the locations.

Should Ottawa approve the exemption, London’s TOPS will operate until Oct. 31, the health unit said.

In her statement, Elliott noted she has “reviewed the latest data, evidence and current site models, visited various sites and held consultations” and that she’s in the process of finalizing her recommendations following a months-long consultation that was launched after the election.

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READ MORE: Future of London’s overdose prevention site expected to be decided this weekend

“It’s not quite what we were looking for, but it’s better than having to shut down,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, London’s medical officer of health, reacting to the news.

“We’re continuing to operate, and we’re continuing to stay hopeful.”

“I think it gives us hope that the province sees the benefit here and does not want to cause chaos on the streets of our cities,” he said, adding it shows the Tories see a place for the facilities in their approach to mental health and the addictions crisis.

“The evidence speaks for itself,” said Sonja Burke, the director of counterpoint harm reduction services at the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC), inside which the TOPS exists.

About 2,000 people have visited London’s temporary site, which has been visited 8,000 times. Staff have reversed 37 overdoses since opening in mid-February.

“Worldwide evidence shows these services work. We know that Christine Elliott has been gathering that evidence,” said Burke earlier in the week.

READ MORE: Provincial government promises to extend funding for London’s overdose prevention site

London’s TOPS first opened in February after receiving six months’ worth of funding from the previous Liberal government to last until August, with the PC government later approving a one-month extension to last until the end of September.

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With files from Jaclyn Carbone and Matthew Trevithick

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