TORONTO – The City of Toronto will open supervised injection sites. The move is seen as a result of the increased incidents of opioid drug use in the city.
The city says, “Given a 41 per cent increase in the reported number of overdose deaths in Toronto over the past decade and concern about the increasing role of opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, a report will be presented to the Toronto Board of Health on the health benefits of supervised injection services. The report, which will be presented to the Toronto Board of Health at its March 21 meeting, includes next steps to implement supervised injection services in Toronto”.
The City of Thunder Bay has also looked at offering similar services. With the arrival of spring, and the melting of snowbanks large numbers of needles are being found in places.
“The overdose rates we’re seeing in Toronto are the highest annual number to date,” said Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown. “Research shows that supervised injection services save lives, reduce drug overdoses and limit the spread of blood-borne diseases. I am therefore recommending that these important health services be integrated into existing harm reduction programs in Toronto where the need is greatest.”
Supervised injection services are health services that provide a safer and hygienic environment for people to inject pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of a nurse.
International research shows that supervised injection services have benefits both for individuals using the services and for the community, including:
• reducing the number of drug overdoses and saving lives
• reducing risk factors that lead to infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis
• increasing the use of detox and drug treatment services
• connecting people with other health and social services
• reducing the amount of publicly discarded needles
• contributing to cost effectiveness, and
• not contributing to crime or increased drug use in the local community.
Conditions in Toronto support the need for these health services. There were more than 100,000 client visits to harm reduction services across the city in 2015, and almost 1.9 million needles were distributed along with other sterile injection supplies. Rates of HIV and Hepatitis C among people who inject drugs are higher than for the general population. A recent Toronto study found 36 per cent of people who were injecting drugs injected in public places such as washrooms and alleyways.
Toronto Public Health (The Works), Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre, and South Riverdale Community Health Centre are planning to add small-scale supervised injection services to their existing clinical health services for people who inject drugs. These health agencies are three of the busiest needle distribution programs, accounting for almost 75 per cent of all needles distributed in Toronto.
“Adding supervised injection to the existing harm reduction services at these agencies will save lives and help to reduce public drug use and discarded needles in the community,” added Dr. McKeown.
Public meetings are being planned to provide information about these new services and to hear about any issues or concerns from the community. A report summarizing community input and outlining further steps in the process for implementing supervised injection services in Toronto will be submitted to the July 2016 meeting of the Board of Health.