The Ontario government has decided to keep the province’s overdose-prevention sites and repurpose them as “consumption and treatment services,” a senior government official says.
Health Minister Christine Elliott is expected to make the announcement on Monday at Queen’s Park. The news was first reported by online publication Queen’s Park Today. It was not immediately known what the provincial government’s plans are for each individual site.
The decision comes after Ms. Elliott said that she received data and engaged in consultations about the issue. The senior government official, who was granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the sites were viewed as important steps toward treatment and rehabilitation.
Premier Doug Ford has previously voiced his opposition to supervised-drug-use and overdose-prevention sites, but Mr. Ford also said he would listen to advice from experts.
Spokespeople for Mr. Ford and Ms. Elliott did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
Ms. Elliott announced in July that the new Progressive Conservative government was reviewing evidence on the sites to see if they “have merit” and are worth continuing. Three sites in Thunder Bay, St. Catharines and Toronto were later put on hold as the provincial government conducted its review. Ms. Elliott told publication Queen’s Park Briefing in September that the final decision about whether to continue the sites was Mr. Ford’s to make.
Critics and advocates said shutting down the sites would be a major step back in fighting the opioid crisis that health officials say claimed nearly 4,000 lives across Canada last year.
Sarah Ovens, a co-ordinator with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, said the decision was welcome news.
“We’re in a public-health crisis and our position is that these sites are a life-saving measure that needs to continue,” she said.
Overdose-prevention sites are temporary facilities approved by the province to address an immediate need in a community, while supervised-drug-use sites are more permanent locations approved by the federal government after a more extensive application process.
With files from Ivan Semeniuk and The Canadian Press