TORONTO -- A new program in Toronto aims to prevent opioid-related death and overdoses by giving people access to a safe supply of drugs.

Toronto’s Board of Health has said that there is a toxic supply of contaminated opiods on the street, and people are dying.

“Since COVID-19 began the number of overdose deaths has been rising and accelerating,” city councillor and chair of the board Joe Cressy at a news conference Thursday.

He said that in Toronto, since March, there’s been an 85 per cent increase in the number of fatal overdoses over last year, and this July alone, 27 people in the city died from suspected overdoses— more deaths than from COVID-19.

“The overdose crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with less services available and additional barriers for people who use opioids.,” said Cressy.

“It’s an opioid poisoning crisis as much as an overdose crisis that’s why safe supply is so important, legal, regulated safe supply is it officially here,” said Cressy.

With the help of the federal government, the city can now help people access pharmaceutical-grade opioids, whose quality, quantity and strength will be verified by a health professional.

Opioid-related deaths increase in Peel Region

On Wednesday, Peel Regional Police were called to a Mississauga condo to investigate the deaths of three men in their 20s after a gathering.

Police are concerned drugs found in the home may have been contaminated and have sent them off for testing. The results are expected to take weeks.

Mississauga, deaths

“You don’t really know what you’re getting, a lot of times what you think you’re buying may be laced an unknown substance that could seriously affect your health, worse could result in your death,” Const. Akhil Mooken said.

Dr. Lawrence Loh is the Medical Officer of Health for Peel Public Health and said his region has also seen an increase in number of opioid-related deaths during the pandemic.

“Peel had 15 confirmed and probable opioid related deaths in April 2020 compared to 11 in April 2019,” he said.

“April 2020, in Ontario, there were 201 confirmed and probable opioid related deaths, which was 50 per cent higher than the monthly median in the province in 2019 (131 deaths).”

Loh said measures that were implemented to prevent spread of COVID-19 may have created new challenges for people who use drugs such as changes to drug supply and reduced access to direct services.

He added that harm reduction supplies and services continue throughout the COVID-19 response, and that many partner agencies that closed due to COVID-19 have reopened with reduced services.