Safe-injection site approved in Leslieville

Health Canada also gives go ahead to new IV injection locations in Queen West, Yonge-Dundas area

The South Riverdale Community Health Centre is one of three sites in Toronto that will soon be offering supervised injection services. - SRCHC/Photo
The South Riverdale Community Health Centre is one of three sites in Toronto that will soon be offering supervised injection services. – SRCHC/Photo

Leslieville will soon be home to a safe-injection site for IV drug users.

On June 2, the department responsible for Canada’s public health approved the creation of three safe injection services programs (SIS) in Toronto: one at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC) on Queen Street East near Carlaw Avenue; another at the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre (PQWCHC) – Queen West site on Bathurst Street, just south of Queen Street West; and the third at the Works at Toronto Public Health’s building on Victoria Street, near Yonge-Dundas Square.

Health Canada formally approved three applications for exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, paving the way for the three organizations to expand their existing harm reduction programs.

“This is great news in the wave of the drug overdoses we are seeing in our communities and across the country,” said Lynne Raskin, SRCHC’s executive director, in an email sent earlier this week to partners and supporters.

“It is also a victory for drug user communities, harm reduction advocates and all who have worked for this service as an evidence-informed public policy response to a public health and human rights issue.”

Raskin credited those who supported the east Toronto centre’s bid to bring the expanded harm reduction service to the community.

“Thanks for your supportive deputations, letters and general encouragement over the past many years to make SIS a reality for our clients, for people who use drugs everywhere and in memory of those whose lives have been needlessly lost in the needless war on drugs,” she wrote.

In a joint press release, the two community health centres called the news an “important next step” in their ability to expand their harm reduction programming and one that will help to address the current overdose epidemic in Ontario.

According to national statistics, an estimated 2,300 people died from an overdose in 2016. In Ontario, that amounts to at least two deaths each day.

Jason Altenberg, SRCHC’s program director, said his organization’s ability to offer SIS is one more step in the journey, one small part of a response to the current overdose crisis and an acknowledgement the war on drugs must end.

Angela Robertson, PQWCHC’s executive director, agreed and said the news is an important achievement for harm reduction advocates as well as a “life-saving addition” to her organization’s harm reduction services.

The plan is to get the three new SIS programs off the ground by the end of the year.

Aside from offering small-scale supervised injection services, clients of Toronto’s three new SIS sites will be provided with sterile injection supplies, education on overdose prevention and intervention, health counselling services and referrals to drug treatment, housing, income support and other services.

In a joint release, Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins said they’re pleased the federal government has approved the establishment of Toronto’s SIS sites.

Tory said the announcement shows all three levels of government are partnering to keep Torontonians safe and healthy by providing people with greater access to treatment, and combating illicit and illegal drug use in Toronto.

“The steadily increasing number of lives lost due to drug overdoses is a human tragedy and cannot be acceptable to anyone in a caring city such as ours,” he said in a June 2 release.

“Supervised injection services have been effective in other communities in preventing death, illicit drug use and in reducing health risks, but in accepting their initiation in Toronto, we must recognize they are only one part of the solution.”

Calling any loss of life to opioids a “needless, preventable” tragedy, Hoskins said his government “remains committed to harm reduction as part of a key comprehensive provincial strategy to prevent people from becoming dependent on opioids and support those who are affected by opioid use disorder.”

Late last week, the Ontario government announced it would be invest $3.5 million to install and operate three supervised injection sites in Toronto.

Last July, Toronto city council unanimously supported the SIS sites, which are the first in Canada since Vancouver’s Insite was established in 2003.

-with files from Torstar News

This article was originally posted on InsideToronto