Toronto safe injection sites on the fast track to opening

Sep 5, 2017

The City of Toronto has fast tracked the opening of three supervised safe injection sites, and at least one interim site has already opened. As Dan Karpenchuk reports, the time line appears to have been ramped up after a harm reduction group opened its own supervised injection site in response to the opioid crisis.

It's clear what Toronto's political leaders have anticipated for some time is now here. The opioid crisis is claiming lives and its forcing first responders to scramble.

There have been more than 325 suspected overdoses in the city since mid-July.

Toronto was on schedule to open three supervised injection sites this fall.  But an unofficial site popped up recently in the downtown area, run by harm reduction workers. They say it’s their response to a critical situation in the city, one which can't wait.

Police have monitored the popup site daily and have not closed it down.

Marilou Gagnon is an associate professor of nursing at the University of Ottawa. She said supervised injection sites have become instrumental in saving lives. One such example is in Victoria, British Columbia, which has been battling an opioid overdose crisis for a couple of years.

"The Victoria overdose prevention site has seen 26,000 visits and 310 overdoses that were actually intervened on, and no deaths,” said Gagnon. “The bottom line: we're saving lives with these sites.”

Toronto received approval in June for three permanent facilities. However, as the opioid crisis became more acute, the city asked for approval for an interim site. The first is up and running, where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of a medical professional. Counsellors and nurses are also hand.

Safe injection sites are now operating or under review in more than half a dozen Canadian cities.