Drug-injection sites planned for Toronto

Chief medical officer proposes three sites to reduce overdose deaths

Torontonians may see supervised drug injection sites near them by the end of the year.

On Monday, Dr. David McKeown, the city’s chief medical officer of health, proposed three sites to help reduce the rising number of overdose deaths.

In 2013 Toronto reached an all-time high of 206 deaths, a 41-percent increase in reported overdoses from 2004. McKeown told a news conference he believes the sooner the sites can open, the better.

“These are essentially preventable deaths and we must do more to save the lives of these vulnerable members of our community,” he said. “I believe this type of health service is needed in Toronto to reduce the unnecessary deaths and disease transmission that are impacting so many lives.”

The sites are proposed to be part of “well established” community health centres. These communities represent areas where injection drug use and overdose rates are higher than average and is responsible for three quarters of all needle handouts last year. The number almost reached 1.9 million.

The proposed centres that will be holding these injection sites are Queen West Central Toronto Community Health Centre, the Works at Toronto Public Health’s building, and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

Dozens of places in Toronto currently provide clean needles and supplies, but needles are often discarded on sidewalks, washrooms and parks nearby, making the areas unsafe for the rest of the community. Advocates of the proposed sites say not only would they reduce the number of overdose deaths, but would also create safer and cleaner spaces for everyone.

The centres would let drug users bring their own illicit drugs to be injected under the supervision of a nurse before moving to a “chill out” room where they will be monitored for overdose. The space would also give users access to treatment and support services.

If the concept is approved by Toronto’s Board of Health inext month, there will be consultations with the public before city council and the provincial government approve the plan. Final approval rests with the federal government, which must grant an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.