U of T is beginning preparations for harm reduction initiatives on campus following fentanyl use increases in Toronto.
Between July 27 and August 1, Toronto saw 20 overdoses and six deaths related to fentanyl-laced drugs, including the deaths of two 18-year-old women in an Etobicoke apartment. Following that, there were approximately 30 non-lethal overdoses at the popular Veld Music Festival on August 5 and 6.
While campus overdoses have not been reported at U of T, David Lowe from the U of T Health and Wellness Centre believes that this is an issue that needs to be taken seriously in order to protect both students and the wider Toronto community.
“We can’t hide our heads in the sand and say, ‘U of T, it’s not gonna happen here,’” Lowe told The Varsity. “The other piece is that we are part of a big city, so it’s not just students. It could be staff that could be involved, it could be someone walking through campus. We should just be good citizens of the community, not just the university.”
Lowe says that the fentanyl crisis has been brought up in the regular meetings between the university and the Ontario University & College Health Association.
“What that’s going to mean is we’re going to need to have some meetings including health, including the police, including res life staff,” Lowe said. He adds that these meetings will aim to figure out if they can bring in public health to train people on campus, gain access to overdose kits, and review who should have access to the kits.
Naloxone, a medication that can be issued in an overdose situation to block the effects of opioids like fentanyl, is currently unavailable through the Health and Wellness Centre or campus police.
In an email to The Varsity, Amra Das, Executive Director of the University of Toronto Emergency First Responders (UTEFR), wrote “UTEFR is also currently not equipped with Naloxone, but in light of growing public health concerns, this is something that we are seriously considering for the upcoming year.”
“However, as of right now, free nasal spray Naloxone kits are available at The Works (a Harm Reduction Program) at Toronto Public Health, and free injectable Naloxone kits are available without a prescription from participating pharmacies in Ontario,” wrote Das. “We encourage people to seek out these resources if they themselves are users or know anyone who may be at risk of overdose.”
In March, the city responded to concerns first raised about fentanyl with a plan to open three supervised injection sites throughout the city. These injection sites are part of a harm reduction public policy meant to provide a legal space to use as well as medical support in case of overdose. The city will also be equipping firefighters with naloxone in addition to having already equipped paramedics.
“The goal of harm reduction is to protect both the drug user and the community from the spread of communicable diseases and other negative health outcomes,” Das told The Varsity. “If the locales where fentanyl has gained a foothold (such as Vancouver) are any indication, the impact on public health could become very severe.”
While the city awaits its three permanent supervised injection sites, an interim safe injection site was launched in late August. This interim site was organized after harm reduction workers, who were concerned about potential overdoses while the official sites are still under construction, set up an unsanctioned injection site in Toronto’s Moss Park.