Published on March 25, 2016 | by Alicia Mirtsos     Photography by Alicia Mirtsos


Toronto Considering Safe Injection Sites

The city of Toronto has just passed a measure that may lead to Toronto creating three supervised injection sites for drug users.

These would allow people who use illegal drugs to inject them in a safe and clean place, while a nurse is present using sterilized needles.

Because the number of deaths from overdose has been increasing for the last 10 years, safe injection sites are one solution to reduce the number of deaths, according to a recent study.

It was conducted in 2012 to determine if supervised injection sites are a good idea for Toronto.

Ahmed Bayoomi was one of the researchers involved in the Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment study. He said the study found that, “there’s really no evidence that supports that injection sites increase crime rates in the neighbourhood, there’s no evidence that they encourage people to use drugs who aren’t already using drugs.” He added it also doesn’t encourage more drug use so “none of the arguments against supervised injection sites have much evidence for them.”

Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown said that drug users have told him they would use a safe injection site if it was available.

Toronto already has facilities throughout the city that help people with drug addictions, called harm reduction centres. These places offer health services to drug users as well as counselling and clean needles. Three of these sites would add a supervised injection service. They are already in the community, and outwardly, nothing would change. McKeown said “you wouldn’t know by going by the facility that there was an additional service that was being offered.”

He added that drug users will not travel large distances, which means the new services would be used largely by people who are already visiting harm reduction locations.

About 30 people came to speak to the Board of Health meeting at city hall, and every speaker was in favour of safe injection sites. They included health professionals, researchers, lawyers, psychologists and current and former drug users.

Dr. Jürgen Rehm, the Director of the Social and Epidemiological Research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health said CAMH is fully behind the new sites. “Injection drug use is a very serious personal concern, but it’s also a very serious public health concern.” Beyond overdose, safe injection sites reduce HIV and Hepatitis in drug users.

Many of the speakers advocated for equal quality of healthcare for drug users. One of them was Dennis Long, the founding executive director Breakaway Addiction Services, who said often people are concerned about falling property values and safety. However, he said, “this service will save lives, there’s no question about it,” and those fears about safety are not backed up by the evidence. Based on the research around existing safe injection sites worldwide, crime rates do not go up.

Toronto would be the third city in Canada to implement them if the three supervised injection sites are approved after going through the next stage. Currently, there are two in Vancouver. Montreal is in the process of creating supervised injection sites.

The next step is public consultations and input from police and city councillors before deciding whether or not Toronto approaches the federal government for a zone exemption to use illegal drugs at the site.

Council will decide in July if they will go forward with the safe injection sites.

The sites proposed are at Toronto Public Health, Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre, and South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

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