Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is among those who publicly criticized Premier Doug Ford’s decision to cut funding to safe injection sites in Ontario.
“Safe injection sites save lives,” he told media during a press conference at an affordable housing announcement in Scarborough on Friday. “We are very concerned with the Ford government’s talk of shutting down safe-injection sites.”
Safe injection sites are places where people can use drugs in a supervised space and be monitored by experienced staff who have knowledge and training in overdose prevention.
The overdose crisis has grown in Toronto due to fentanyl taking over the drug market, according to Zoë Dodd, a harm reduction worker in Toronto. Fentanyl is a highly unstable drug and the difference between a dose that will get you high and a dose that can kill is very small, she said.
In the first six months of 2018, 3,286 Canadians died of accidental drug overdoses, according to a national report issued by the government of Canada.
A press release was issued on Friday afternoon on the province’s website stating that only 15 out of the 21 existing safe injection sites will continue to receive funding. Street Health and The Works, near Dundas Square, are two Toronto sites that will no longer receive funding.
“I am deeply troubled by this sudden announcement,” Mayor John Tory said in a press release issued via social media Friday afternoon. “I support these sites because the evidence from our health professionals showed that they would stop preventable deaths and I believe they have done that and continue to do that.”
We are in the midst of an overdose epidemic in our country and supervised consumption services are one of the best tools we have right now to help save lives and I am deeply troubled by this sudden provincial announcement on consumption & treatment services. Full statement here: pic.twitter.com/zNlZx6vga9
— John Tory (@JohnTory) March 29, 2019
The federal government stepped in shortly after the announcement and granted a temporary exemption for three Ontario sites to remain open.
Trudeau promised he would work with harm reduction workers, organizations and municipalities to reach a solution.
Some harm reduction workers, including Leigh Chapman, are skeptical about the prime minister’s comments.
“We need more than concern from the federal government — we need action,” said Chapman, who works for the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society.
A protest was held at Queen’s Park on April 4 in response to these cuts.
“I’m devastated, just absolutely devastated,” said Joyce Rankin, clinical manager for Street Health, when she heard news of the cuts on Friday.
Doctors and hospital staff say they will also notice the effects of these funding cuts.
“These cuts are terrible for the patients that we see,” said Chetan Mehta, a family and addictions physician. “There will be more complications from unsupervised injections, risks of death and hepatitis C, and other complications that come from unobserved drug use.”
There is a growing concern that the number of overdoses in public areas will increase with the closure of these sites.
“Our life-saving efforts have to be placed on hold while we fight the provincial government to get our funding back,” Nanky Rai, a Toronto family physician, said at the protest. “We will continue this fight.”