Skip to main content

Canada Advocates voice concern over Ontario government’s freeze on overdose-prevention sites

Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes an announcement at the Queens Park legislature in Toronto on Wednesday, August 15, 2018.

Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Ontario government said it will not reverse a decision to stop the opening of new overdose-prevention sites despite critics saying the facilities save lives and Toronto police issuing warnings after a recent string of overdose deaths.

In a letter sent to Ontario’s health authorities on Friday, Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office put a hold on the opening of temporary overdose-prevention sites in St. Catharines, Thunder Bay and Toronto. A new site in Canada’s largest city was supposed to open on Monday in the west end, where seven fatal overdoses were recorded between Aug. 2-13.

Ms. Elliott ordered a freeze to the opening of any new supervised drug-use facilities until the end of September, when she expects to finish a review of existing sites and ask Premier Doug Ford to decide on their future. Many supervised drug-use sites have opened across Canada over the past three years as federal authorities have sped the approval of the facilities at a time when fatal overdoses have continued to increase. In Ontario alone, more than 1,200 people died from overdoses in 2017.

Story continues below advertisement

Related: Toronto police warn of dangerous narcotics after seven fatal overdoses since Aug. 2

Opinion: Why Ford is wrong about supervised drug-use sites

Mr. Ford said on Wednesday afternoon that he’s waiting for the results of Ms. Elliott’s review, but his government will be focused on rehabilitation and law enforcement. “This is a major, major crisis. It’s all hands on deck,” he said. “We have to work with our police to stop these drugs, these killer drugs. It’s terrible. I can assure you we will be listening."

The police issued a warning late on Tuesday to users to be cautious about a bad batch of drugs being circulated. Toronto police Superintendent Neil Corrigan would not specify where the fatal overdoses occurred, citing the continuing investigation into the distribution of the drugs. Investigators believe the deadly opioids consumed contained either fentanyl, a painkiller that can be 100 times more potent than morphine, or carfentanil, which is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl.

Police have stressed that people consuming drugs should avoid doing so alone. One of the ways to mitigate risk, they have noted, is to use at a supervised drug-use site. Supt. Corrigan declined to comment on the government’s decision on Wednesday, noting that his job is to save lives and prevent crime: “That’s what I’m focused on – not the politics of it.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters on Wednesday that he continues to support the sites because they save lives. He said there would be no solution to the city’s opioid crisis until federal and provincial authorities move to confront mental-health issues. Despite billions of dollars having been promised by the two senior levels of government for Ontario, little has so far been invested, he said. Toronto saw 303 people die from opioid overdoses last year.

“I was heartbroken to read that in one very short period, less than a week, we lost seven people to drug overdoses. If you think about that happening in any other context, if we lost seven lives, we would be heartbroken but we would also be angry,” Mr. Tory said. He called on the government’s review to end quickly “because lives are at stake.”

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Tory’s comments came as downtown city councillor Lucy Troisi released a letter calling for a halt to any new supervised drug-use sites in her ward. She said crime and drug dealing had increased after two overdose-prevention sites opened.

Speaking with reporters on Monday, Ms. Elliott said her review would like to hear from people such as the downtown councillor. “Some people are concerned about having more safe supervised infection sites in the neighbourhood. I need to understand what their concerns are,” she said. "There are some who believe that they’re not as effective as perhaps other things could be.”

Ms. Elliott and David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, both declined a request for comment after the warning from Toronto police.

Nick Boyce, a spokesman for the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, said the recent string of deaths highlights the need for more overdose-prevention services.

“Those seven deaths could have been prevented if those folks were not using alone, and if they had a place where they could’ve used in a safe environment and starting building connections with health-care workers,” he said.

Mr. Boyce said he does not know what the government’s review will entail or who will be approached. It’s hard to welcome the review, he said, when “everybody knows how strong the evidence already is.” He’s a member of an opioid emergency task force established by the previous government and said no one from that body has been consulted yet.

Story continues below advertisement

“There are lots of us that can point them in the right direction and provide that evidence," he said. "There’s just been no communication around it, so we really don’t know right now.”

France Gélinas, the NDP’s health critic, said in a statement on Wednesday that the party is urging the government to “act swiftly to declare a state of emergency to combat the growing opioid crisis.” She wrote that the Official Opposition is concerned the opioid situation could worsen with the government’s decision to freeze the opening of new sites.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter