Toronto’s medical health officer has released a report that recommends the city push the province to fund supervised injection services for drug users, but Queen’s Park says it has no plans to proceed at this time.
The report by medical health officer David McKeown was released on Tuesday, and the city’s board of health will consider it next week.
Dr. McKeown said the board should urge the province to finance the integration of supervised injection services into existing facilities as a trial.
The report said supervised injection services such as Insite in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have positive public health and safety outcomes. It said they have reduced overdose deaths and behaviours that cause HIV and hepatitis C. The report also said such facilities increase the use of detox and addiction treatment, and do not increase crime.
But Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews on Tuesday reiterated that the province does not intend to pursue such services.
“Supervised injection sites aren’t something that we’re moving forward with right now,” she wrote in an e-mailed statement.
She said the province is committed to other forms of harm reduction, such as needle exchange and methadone treatment.
The report said Toronto Public Health and 35 community agencies that deliver needle-exchange and other harm-reduction services recorded 75,000 client visits in 2010. It said the most recent research has shown 61 per cent of people who inject drugs in Toronto have tested positive for hepatitis C, and 6 per cent for HIV.Councillor Gord Perks, a member of the board of health, said the benefits of such facilities cannot be argued. “The evidence is in. Safe injection services save lives,” he said in an interview. Mr. Perks said if the province does not want to go forward, an agency could fund it. However, he said he would prefer the province to participate.
Mayor Rob Ford has opposed supervised injection services. His spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Police Chief Bill Blair is also opposed.
“His view remains the same,” spokesman Mark Pugash said in an interview. “His concern is, among a number of things, the tremendous damage that is caused to neighbourhoods where these facilities set up.”
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, St. Michael’s Hospital, and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network were among the organizations to support Dr. McKeown’s report.
Councillor Adam Vaughan, who recently visited Insite, said it is important to find out where Toronto’s injection drug users are to make them safer.
“If their lives are safer, our lives are safer,” he said in an interview.
Insite, North America’s first supervised injection facility, opened in 2003 and is operated by Vancouver Coastal Health and the PHS Community Services Society. It has had 1.8-million visits without a fatal overdose. It can refer individuals to other social and health services, or detox.
Insite operates under an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. A Supreme Court decision in 2011 allowed it to remain open despite a challenge from the federal government.
Dr. McKeown’s report said Ottawa has since introduced Bill C-65, which would make getting an exemption more “onerous.” He recommended the board make a submission to the federal government to register its opposition.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in an e-mailed statement that the government “believes that it’s important that local voices be heard before decisions are made to put a supervised drug consumption site in a neighbourhood. The introduction of the Respecting Communities Act will make certain local voices are heard.”