In 2014, there were 252 overdose-related deaths in the city of Toronto. From 2004–2013, overdose deaths increased by 41 per cent, from a total of 146 to 206. Both these statistics indicate that drug overdoses are a prominent public health issue in Toronto.
The province of Ontario has recently approved the funding for three supervised injection sites in the city to address this crisis. According to the Toronto Star, supervised injection sites “are legally sanctioned spaces where people can inject illegal drugs, typically opiates or cocaine, under the supervision of trained health staff and without fear of arrest.”
The funding for the supervised injection sites comes at an important time. Fentanyl, an extremely potent painkiller, is becoming more widespread on the streets and there have been an alarming number of fentanyl overdoses in the past few months in Western Canada.
These three sites will be the first of their kind to open in Canada since 2003. It is possible that the move will encourage the city, the province, and the country to allocate more funding to programs that offer support to drug users.
The supervised injection sites opening in Toronto will be located at the following locations, once the buildings have been renovated and are later approved by Health Canada: the Toronto Public Health-operated needle exchange at Yonge and Dundas Streets, the Queen West Central Toronto Community Health Centre on Bathurst Street, and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre near Carlaw Avenue.
Professional staff who will work at these sites are trained to deal with drug use and overdose, in order to decrease the risk of death from overdose.
There is currently major stigma surrounding drug use, which may be something that the city must address in order for drug users to feel safe going to the new supervised injection sites. A sense of comfort and security needs to be associated with these sites so that the space they provide can be seen as helpful and supportive.
Although there are many other issues that need to be addressed, such as the overprescription of narcotic drugs, the funding of supervised injection sites is certainly a step forward for the city and the Toronto Drug Strategy.
Benefits of supervised injection sites according to the city of Toronto:
- Reduction of risk factors leading to infectious diseases such
as HIV and hepatitis
- Increase in the use of detox
and drug treatment services
- Connection of people with other
health and social services
- Reduction of the amount of
publicly discarded needles
- Decrease in crime and drug use in
the local community