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Feds fund 2 safe drug supply sites in Toronto to combat ongoing overdose crisis

Click to play video 'New pilot project will target opioid epidemic in Toronto' New pilot project will target opioid epidemic in Toronto
WATCH ABOVE: The federal government is funding a program to help supply safe pharmaceutical drugs to overdose prevention programs in Toronto in an effort to gain control of the opioid epidemic. While the pilot program is being heralded as a major first step, there are growing questions over why the province isn’t participating. Matthew Bingley reports.

The federal government announced funding for two safe drug supply sites in Toronto in an ongoing effort to combat the opioid overdose crisis which continues to worsen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Member of Parliament Arif Virani made the announcement on behalf of Federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood Thursday alongside other advocates and government representatives.

Read more: Toronto Board of Health chair calls for action after 27 opioid overdose deaths in July

Virani said the federal government will provide the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, where the announcement was being held, with $582,000 for a new safe drug supply project.

The money is part of a total of $1.58 million that the federal government is providing Toronto to support harm reduction across the city.

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“In many communities, including Toronto, the outbreak (COVID-19 pandemic) is worsening the ongoing crisis of opioid related harm and deaths,” Virani said.

“This safer supply project will provide pharmaceutical grade medication as an alternative to the toxic illegal drug supply,” he continued. “(It will) connect people who use drugs with important health services, including treatment which is harder to access during the pandemic.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Ontario opioid crisis worsens during pandemic as services for drug users scale back

The second safer supply program, Toronto coun. Joe Cressy said, is the Downtown East Collaborative Safe Opioid Supply Program, which is a collaborative effort by the South Riverdale Community Health Centre, the Regent Park Community Health Centre, and Street Health.

Angela Robertson, executive director of the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, said the idea of safe supply is a “necessary extension.” She said the funding from the federal government is for a year-long program.

Cressy, who is also the chair on the city’s board of health, said overdose deaths in Toronto have spiked 85 per cent since this time last year.

“This announcement is welcome news after Toronto Public Health reported that last month, 27 people in our city lost their lives to suspected overdoses – a tragic record that surpasses July’s fatalities from COVID-19,” Cressy said.

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Click to play video 'A startling new milestone in the opioid crisis' A startling new milestone in the opioid crisis
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The pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for those suffering to get help, with less services available and more barriers in their way.

“We need a new, public health approach: one where people can access regulated drugs, so that they know what they are taking and can stay safe,” Cressy continued.

“Through these programs, people who use drugs will be able to access pharmaceutical-grade opioids of known quality, quantity, and strength from a health professional.

“This provides as an alternative to purchasing drugs illegally, which may be contaminated or tainted with fatal substances.”