Toronto’s Board of Health is hearing from the public Monday as they consider the next steps in implementing three safe-injection sites in the city.
The board released a report ahead of today’s meeting detailing its plans to look at which existing health care agencies can accommodate new safe injection services. Officials will also hold public consultations to hear concerns about having safe injection services in neighbourhoods.
Last week, Toronto’s chief medical officer, Dr. David McKeown, submitted a proposal for three safe injections sites in an effort to curb the number of overdose deaths in the city, which rose by 41 per cent between 2004 and 2013.
The sites would provide drug users with a clean space and clean supplies as well as professional supervision in case of overdose or other negative drug reactions.
McKeown met with city officials on Monday to make his case for safe injection sites.
Healthcare professionals, addictions counselors and drug users themselves showed in overwhelming numbers to show their support.
“Addiction does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, the unknown and the famous, the colour of your skin or the amount of education you receive,” said Dona May, who lost her 35-year-old daughter to addiction almost two ago.
“The people that say I don’t want this in my backyard---the truth of the matter is that it’s already in their backyard,” she said.
Those who have used drugs themselves also support the initiative.
“I had quite a few friends that died from overdoses,” said Karin Shaw, adding that safe injection services would help protect drug users and the community at large.
Shaw used crack cocaine for 15 years before getting clean in 2008.
With more than 90 safe injection sites operating across Europe, Canada and Australia, the service is proven to reduce overdose deaths and limit the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, according to the Board of Health report. In general, communities that offer safe injection sites also see an increased demand for detox and drug treatment services, the report said.
The report said the services would also reduce the risk to the broader public by allowing the city to ensure that more used needles are properly disposed of.
If implemented, the downtown Toronto Works Needle Exchange Program, the Queen-West Centre Community Health Centre and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre would be the first agencies to start offering safe injection services, based on the number of people who already frequent these locations for clean needles. In 2015, the three agencies combined distributed more than 1.4 million clean needles.
Monday’s report also stressed the importance of community consultations, which will be held as both public meetings and online surveys.
The city has yet to apply for an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to open safe injection sites.
In its report, the Board of Health said the city will need a detailed financial plan, the results of community consultation and extensive supporting data for the project before applying for the exemption.
With a report from CTV Toronto’s Dana Levenson