COVER STORY

StarMetro Toronto - - TORONTO -

to within ex­ist­ing com­mu­nity fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing one run by the city — the first of their kind in On­tario. To­day, there are four per­ma­nent sites lo­cated in Queen West, Yonge-dun­das, Moss Park and Les­lieville, at a cost of $3.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally. Five emer­gency over­dose preven­tion sites have been ap­proved to op­er­ate for six months.

The prov­ince, un­der the Lib­er­als and through the min­istry of health, has been pro­vid­ing 100 per cent of the op­er­at­ing fund­ing for those ser­vices. The over­dose preven­tion sites also rely on pro­vin­cial ap­provals to con­tinue op­er­at­ing af­ter six months.

Their fu­ture is now in ques­tion af­ter Ford told re­porters dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign he was “dead against” su­per­vised in­jec­tion sites. The num­ber of over­dose deaths in Toronto has steadily in­creased in the last five years, from 104 recorded in 2013 to 303 in 2017.

The city’s su­per­vised in­jec­tion sites have nurses who mon­i­tor users while they in­ject drugs, and look for signs of over­dose and in­fec­tion. The sites have seen thousands of vis­its since they opened, and no deaths have oc­curred at any of them.

“It is very, very im­por­tant that we not only con­tinue to save lives and demon­strate to peo­ple that we care about them, but I think the mes­sage to ad­dicts if we go back on our pol­icy is a very de­struc­tive mes­sage about their place in so­ci­ety,” Dr. Howard Ovens, On­tario’s ex­pert lead for emer­gency medicine and the for­mer chief of the depart­ment of emer­gency medicine at Si­nai Health Sys- tem, told the Star.

Ovens noted the city has not ex­pe­ri­enced the ill ef­fects pre­dicted by those who op­posed su­per­vised in­jec­tion sites.

In Moss Park, where vol­un­teers have been run­ning an un­sanc­tioned over­dose preven­tion site out of a tent and then a do­nated trailer for al­most a year, more than 200 over­doses have been re­versed. Re­cently, the group was given le­gal sta­tus with pro­vin­cial fund­ing to op­er­ate for at least six months in a new per­ma­nent home nearby.

Ac­tivist and regis­tered nurse Leigh Chap­man, whose brother Brad died of an over­dose in 2015, called Ford’s stance on harm re­duc­tion “dan­ger­ous.”

“This is re­ally scary to have an anti-harm re­duc­tion pre­mier in the midst of the worst pub­lic health cri­sis in our gen­er­a­tion,” said Chap­man, who has been vol­un­teer­ing at the Moss Park site.

“This is a game changer for sure.”

The board of health meets June 18, coun­cil meets start­ing on June 26.

With files from Emily Mathieu Zoe Dodd be­gins to set up the Moss Park over­dose preven­tion site — where more than 200 over­doses have been re­versed — ear­lier this spring. Re­cently, the group was given le­gal sta­tus with pro­vin­cial fund­ing to op­er­ate for at least six months.

RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR

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