The drug problem in the Greenwood and Danforth area is still a major topic of concern, according to Sgt. Darren Cox of 54 Division.
“Due to numerous community complaints that have been brought to our attention, it appears that it is at a point where some residents feel unsafe and they are asking the police to address the issue,” Cox says.
But the problem is not as bad as it used to be, says Dr. Clement Sun, founder of Addiction Centre Toronto, which opened a clinic in East York 15 years ago when opioids in the community were a growing crisis.
“At the time we opened up this clinic in this area, there were people sleeping on the streets,” Sun said. “At restaurants you would find needles in the restroom. The crime and unemployment rates were very high.”
With over 10 locations Ontario-wide, ACT’s mission is to get patients off drugs and keep them off, Sun said. The clinic focuses on opioid and prescription medication addiction by using opioid substitution therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy to get patients to their goal.
Although the drug problem is still prevalent in the area, ACT has contributed positively to the community, says Oliver Hierlihy, manager of The Danforth Mosaic BIA.
He says ACT is a necessary service and he hasn’t received any complaints about it.
“We recognize that there is a requirement for that kind of service and if we want people to get better we need to provide services for them to get better,” he says.
Residents in the area are worried about issues surrounding drugs, but have not voiced any concerns about ACT, Sgt. Cox says.
“We’ve never heard any community complaints about ATC. It’s more complaints about the drug activity and drug-related crimes going on in the area,”
According to Sun, the Greenwood and Danforth area has improved compared to 15 years ago.
“Local businesses that came here after us and didn’t understand what we did, thought we shouldn’t be here because this is a nice area and they didn’t need us,” he says. “What they don’t realize is when we look around the neighborhood we see our previous patients who are now people who work within the community.”
When comparing affected areas in East York to affected areas in the rest of Toronto Sun believes the opioid crisis has been consistent.
“It’s about the same as the rest of Toronto. When we first started here we went to City Hall and we told them that we had a technique that is quite good,” he says. “We asked City Hall where the most challenging place in Toronto was because we wanted to do tests with the most difficult patients possible. Among the areas that are spread around the city, they identified here. This is why we located here.”
Treatment and the source of the addiction
Many clinics in Toronto use methadone to treat patients living with addiction, but ACT operates with a unique framework.
“Addiction is partly physical but most of it is physiological,” Sun says. “I use to work for other clinics and they did not deal with the physiological side, so a few of us doctors got together to help patients directly.”
Through several years of working with people who were living with addiction, Sun has determined that trauma is at the root of addiction.
“What we discovered was there were factors that our patients were exposed to early in their life, and that was actually the source of their addiction,” Sun says. “Unemployment, dysfunctional relationships family issues. If you just get them clean and send them back into the same environment then they relapse.”
ACT’s method of treating addiction is considered controversial because its main focus is on counseling patients. Groups of doctors have gathered their resources together to treat the mental and emotional source of the disease.
“Our method is considered very unusual in that we use methadone, but we don’t put emphasis on the methadone,” Sun says. “We work as a group and we support each doctor, meaning that those who do counseling well, will help doctors who don’t do counseling that well. Whereas other clinics tend to have a group of patients who are their own and they usually focus on their own patients.
How many people are living with addiction in East York
The actual statistics surrounding the number of people who are drug users in East York is imprecise because not all users are visible.
“That’s a number that we are not sure about the accuracy,” Sun says. “The ones that hit rock bottom come and see me. We’re very suspicious that there is a large group out there that are functional addicts that never come to our clinic.”
Addiction is a difficult disease to track because it is often unreported and left untreated.
“A theory we have is the addiction rate is the same all over but it expresses itself when the money runs out,” Sun says. “In an area where socioeconomically there is a higher working-class population the addiction shows up first.”
There are people who are addicted to drugs in all socioeconomic backgrounds, who have not yet come to terms with their addiction.
“There must be a lot of professionals who are still working and I could define them as addicted but they may not understand that they are addicts until their money is gone then they realize they have a problem,” Sun says. “The recorded numbers are not accurate, I’m guessing that it is double the number were treating.”
How we solve the problem
ATC’s three-stage program treats an inclusive rage number of patients annually.
“We treat about roughly 350 per year. That’s an ideal number for a clinic this size,” Sun says. “We know that if it’s too busy in the clinic it’s not good for the patient.”
Dr. Sun believes that treating addiction should include treating where the addiction comes from in order for treatment to be truly successful.
“I think we have to approach addiction as more holistic and look for the source,” Sun says. “The most successful cases are the people that get on methadone, learn their triggers and tools to cope, work on their relationships and careers, while we wean them off of the drug.”