SRCHC Funded for Consumption Treatment Services at 955 Queen Street East and 134 Sherbourne Street.

Ontario’s Government announced funding for 15 Consumption and Treatment Services sites today.

News Release

Ontario Continuing to Build a Connected Mental Health and Addictions Treatment System

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

Ontario’s Government for the People is putting patients at the centre of our integrated health care system. As part of this commitment the Government of Ontario is ensuring those struggling with drug addiction can connect with full wrap-round supports for treatment and rehabilitation services, by approving 15 Consumption and Treatment Services sites in communities with high need and will continue to accept applications from interested organizations.

“Our government takes the opioids crisis very seriously,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. “That’s why we’ve created a new Consumption and Treatment Services model that will continue to save lives by preventing overdoses and connecting people to primary care, treatment, rehabilitation, and other health and social services to ensure those struggling with drug addiction get the help they need.”

To support building a comprehensive and connected mental health and addictions treatment system, Consumption and Treatment Services applications were reviewed against the program criteria, which includes:

  • Addressing local needs
  • Offering integrated wrap-around health and social services
  • Providing evidence of community support and demonstrating a commitment to ongoing community engagement
  • Considering proximity to other Consumption and Treatment Services as well as licensed child care centres, parks and schools
  • Meeting accessibility criteria and laws

“This announcement is part of our commitment to invest $3.8 billion over the next 10 years to finally develop and implement a comprehensive, connected and integrated mental health and addictions treatment strategy, centred around patients, family and caregivers,” said Elliott. “We will continue to make mental health and addictions a priority and work toward creating an Ontario where everyone is fully supported in their journey toward mental wellness.”

Background Information

Additional Resources

CBC News: Toronto Public Health strategy calls for culturally safe care, Indigenous-led consumption sites

‘When I’m around my people, I feel safe’: City aims to combat Indigenous overdoses amid opioid crisis

Harm reduction work ‘needs to be driven by our own community,’ says Les Harper, who is one of only a handful of Indigenous people working in the supervised consumption sphere in Toronto, despite huge rates of drug use among Indigenous residents. (Jon Castell/CBC News)

Catching up in the bustling lobby of an east-end Toronto clinic and supervised consumption site, Les Harper and Lawrence Boyer have lots to talk about — and lots in common.

Both men understand the complicated nature of drug use, from the pleasures to the potentially-deadly pains. Both have also lost loved ones to overdoses — roughly 30 friends for Boyer, and three brothers, one sister, and various cousins, aunts, and uncles for Harper.

And, like so many of those affected by addiction, both men are Indigenous.

But while Boyer is a client and two-time overdose survivor, Harper is on the other side.

Tall and soft-spoken, he is one of only a handful of Indigenous people working in Toronto’s harm reduction community, even though he estimates Indigenous community members make up at least half of all those seeking services, despite making up less than three per cent of the city’s population.

It’s a lopsided arrangement both men agree needs to change.

Harm reduction work “needs to be driven by our own community,” said Harper, a staff member at the supervised consumption site at South Riverdale Community Health Centre who is from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation northeast of Edmonton.

“I don’t know one Indigenous person it doesn’t affect,” he added. “That hasn’t had somebody pass away from an overdose.”

The city, it seems, is listening. Released this month, a new Indigenous overdose strategy, developed by an independent Indigenous contractor with input from the community and support from Toronto Public Health, stresses the need for Indigenous-led consumption and treatment spaces as a way to combat the stigma and isolation experienced by Indigenous people who use drugs.

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 07: A heroin user prepares to shoot up on the street in a South Bronx neighborhood which has the highest rate of heroin-involved overdose deaths in the city on October 7, 2017 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The recommendations tie into the city’s broader overdose action plan to combat the opioid crisis, which has led to the deaths of at least 16 people in Toronto so far in 2019 and roughly 450 people over the previous two years.

The “desperately needed” strategy is also the first of its kind in Canada, according to city councillor and board of health chair Joe Cressy. He said it was more than a year in the making, and in that time, the city learned it can’t use “just a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Thanks to recommendations from Indigenous drug users, the strategy calls for Toronto Public Health to request federal and provincial funding support for Indigenous agencies, drop-in spaces, and safe consumption and treatment sites.

It also stresses the importance of weaving Indigenous elders, healing circles, and traditional medicines and teachings into the city’s health care system.

“Currently, the perception is that service workers are generally not knowledgeable about Indigenous culture and history and colonialism, including the assimilation and repression of residential schools, the 60s scoop, and Indian hospitals,” the report reads.

“This results in spaces in which [Indigenous people who use drugs] feel judged and like misfits.”

The ‘desperately needed’ strategy is the first of its kind in Canada, according to city councillor and board of health chair Joe Cressy. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

That’s a feeling Boyer, an Ojibway father of four, knows well.

The 51-year-old began using drugs — mainly crack cocaine — roughly two decades ago. Now a regular at the Queen Street E. centre where Harper works, Boyer grew up in a home with alcoholic parents and an abusive father. Not everyone understands that experience, he explained.

“When I’m around my people, I feel safe and at ease,” he said. “When I’m not, I’m on edge, and have my guard up.”

‘We know mainstream approaches don’t work’

Research shows “mainstream” approaches don’t work well for Indigenous families, noted Jeffrey Schiffer, executive director at Indigenous non-profit Native Child and Family Services of Toronto.

While he said the city is behind the times when it comes to co-developing strategies with the Indigenous community, Schiffer also praised Toronto Public Health for the new “proactive” direction.

“We’re also at a point where we’re recognizing that Indigenous approaches and tools are beneficial to all people,” he said.

Lawrence Boyer, left, is an Ojibway father and two-time overdose survivor. Les Harper, right, is one of only a handful of Indigenous people working in Toronto’s harm reduction community. (Jon Castell/CBC News)

The strategy report, heading to the board of health for approval later this month, stresses the legacy of trauma facing Indigenous residents today — from child protective services interventions to the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Fringe programming in care settings is not enough, the report continues, because healing can only come when non-Indigenous people are allies “rather than accomplices in continued cultural degradation.”

To implement the strategy, Toronto Public Health has pledged to dedicate an Indigenous staff resource to work with the city in collaboration with Indigenous service providers and community members, wrote de Villa in a note introducing the report to the board of health for its Feb. 25 meeting.

But with many of the recommendations hinging on funding from higher levels of government, some question what can be accomplished.

“How is it going to be implemented? What are the resources behind it?” Schiffer asked.

In particular, it’s unclear how receptive the province would be to the calls for funding and support.

Research shows ‘mainstream’ approaches don’t work well for Indigenous families, says Jeffrey Schiffer, executive director at Indigenous non-profit Native Child and Family Services of Toronto.

While federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor has previously said overdose prevention sites “save lives,” Premier Doug Ford claimed the sites offer little long-term help for people with addictions while on the campaign trail last year.

Once elected, his government announced a freeze on the expansion of overdose prevention sites, despite calls from harm reduction workers and Mayor John Tory for a scaling-up of efforts instead.

It was only in late October that the Ford government announced it will keep funding supervised drug consumption sites, but their focus will change to help users receive treatment and get rehabilitated. And as recently as late last month, some sites were unsure if the province would accept their funding applications.

Against that backdrop, Harper also wonders about the strategy’s future.

Standing outside the jam-packed health centre where he works, he said one thing is clear: Drug use is affecting Toronto’s Indigenous communities at a far higher rate than non-Indigenous groups, meaning the city’s approach needs to shift before the crisis gets worse.

“Every Indigenous person I know who works in social work will have a relative come into their space,” Harper said. “A non-Indigenous person will work their whole life — and never have a family member walk in their door.”

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/when-i-m-around-my-people-i-feel-safe-city-aims-to-combat-indigenous-overdoses-amid-opioid-crisis-1.5025560

CATIE: Programming Connection Case Study on keepSIX Supervised Consumption Service

CATIE: Programming Connection. Shared Experience, Stronger Programs.

CATIE includes a case study of SRCHC’s keepSIX Supervised Consumption Service in Programming Connection.

The Programming Connection is an online toolkit that highlights promising approaches to frontline programs in HIV and hepatitis C prevention, testing, treatment, care and support efforts in Canadian communities.

Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE) strengthens Canada’s response to HIV and hepatitis C by bridging research and practice. CATIE connects healthcare and community-based service providers with the latest science, and promote good practices for prevention and treatment programs.

https://www.catie.ca/en/pc/program/keepsix

CBC News Visits Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site

‘When people come here they feel safe’: Finding sanctuary at the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site

A rare look inside the government-sanctioned overdose prevention site in Toronto’s Moss Park neighbourhood to meet people who work there and those who use it.

Site aims to save lives, but also gives users a sense of community and purpose

‘We need more places like this,’ says Akosua Gyan-Mante, one of the people who uses the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site in Toronto. ‘I don’t want to die alone in an alley.’ (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“I’ve lost 11 friends this year … most people don’t lose that many in a lifetime.”

Dave Gordon reflects on the toll drugs have taken on the people in his life as he sits at the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site sketching in his notebook. He’s been on and off opioids himself for decades.

“I don’t want to lose any more friends.”

More than 9,000 people have died from accidental overdoses in Canada since January 2016 — 2,000 of them in the first half of 2018 alone, according to numbers released by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

While Canada struggles with a relentless and deadly opioid crisis, places like the Moss Park site in Toronto offer help. They allow people to bring their drugs inside and safely use them under the supervision of trained staff.

CBC News was granted rare access to spend some time at the government-sanctioned Overdose Prevention Site and meet people who work there, as well as those who use it.

Gordon knows what’s driving the grim statistics around opioids only too well. He has overdosed, and described it as, “the most horrible feeling in the world. Feeling like my life was slipping away. I had no control.”

Dave Gordon sketches at a table in the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

He now spends his time at the Moss Park site — partly to use safely, but also because it’s a place to be with friends and it has allowed him to re-discover his love of drawing.

Gordon is also giving back, handing out harm-reduction safety kits in the neighbourhood to help others in the community.

I’m trying to pay society back for my mistakes.– Dave Gordon

“I’m trying to pay society back for my mistakes.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada says 72 per cent of accidental overdose deaths this year involved fentanyl. And a lot of them happen when people use drugs alone.

“So when people come here they feel safe. They feel supported,” says Sarah Greig, an overdose response worker at Moss Park. “They don’t feel shamed and blamed and stigmatized, as they have been by their family, by some health care providers and by some social service providers.”

Greig says the people who come to Moss Park are more like friends, and they are building a community.

The overdose prevention site began as an unsanctioned, volunteer-run outdoor tent in Toronto’s Moss Park. It had over 9,000 visits and reversed more than 200 overdoses between August 2017 and June 2018.

Medical supplies at Moss Park. The site has been seeing more than 100 visitors a day and reversed more than 50 overdoses since it received provincial funding in July.

After becoming a satellite of the South Riverdale Community Health Centre, the site received provincial funding and an exemption through the provincial OPS program, allowing it to move indoors in July this year.

Since then, it has had thousands more visits — over a hundred a day — and reversed more than 50 overdoses.

The future of these sites remains uncertain, however, as local and provincial governments grapple with their pros and cons and who will fund them.

Moss Park’s government funding is set to expire on Dec. 24. The organizers have re-applied, but the province is imposing stricter regulations on where overdose sites can operate, which could jeopardize the Moss Park operation.

The fact that the site might be shut down worries Akosua Gyan-Mante.

“We need more places like this,” says the 26-year-old, a regular at Moss Park. “I don’t want to die alone in an alley.”

The Moss Park site ‘is giving me a fighting chance,’ says heroin and fentanyl user Akosua Gyan-Mante. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Gyan-Mante never thought she would be a drug user — growing up in B.C. in a home with a loving father, she had dreams of being a doctor. She moved to Toronto six years ago, started college and had a son.

Then things fell apart. She began injecting heroin and fentanyl this summer after her boyfriend introduced her to it.

“I’m lonely and depressed, and it makes me feel better,” Gyan-Mante says, explaining that drugs help numb the emotional pain.

She overdosed at the site this past October. Greig was there to reverse it.

We need to nurture people and we need to point out people’s strengths instead of just identifying their weaknesses.– Sarah Greig

“We need to nurture people and we need to point out people’s strengths instead of just identifying their weaknesses,” Greig says, adding that people use drugs for a wide range of things.

“This is my support system right here … [the hope that this] shitty existence will get better,” says Gyan-Mante as she hugs Greig, wiping a tear from her eye.

“It [the site] is giving me a fighting chance. It gave me life. It’s giving me another day, another week, another month of being OK.”

Gyan-Mante, centre, overdosed at the Moss Park site this summer. Front-line response workers Sarah Greig, left, and Tony, right, reversed the overdose. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Far from just a place to use drugs, the site also offers a hot meal provided by donations, a warm place to hang out during winter, and information on support services if people want them.

The site operates from noon to 6 p.m. and is closed on Mondays.

“I hate Mondays,” Kevin Drake says as Greig watches him use heroin. “I’ve been to different sites. And this is the best.”

Drake says he has overdosed 15 times in his life. But when he is at Moss Park, he does not feel shame.

Instead, it’s replaced by pride. He is known as a guy who is always cleaning up, mopping floors and organizing the space, making sure it looks its best.

Sarah Greig watches Kevin Drake as he prepares a dose of heroin, to make sure he doesn’t overdose – and so she can take immediate action if he does. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“I do worry, but I use Fentanyl … that’s why I come here. That’s why I choose not to do it by myself. Because here — you’re guaranteed to leave here alive.”

The site offers safety, and it also harbours stories of hope.

Drake got a job shortly after CBC’s visit. Gordon is being asked to speak at universities about his experiences, to help find solutions to community drug issues. Gyan-Mante is hoping to reunite with her son permanently.

And that hope is exactly the point of these sites, Greig says.

“When I reflect and I think about what I’ve been doing for the past decade, a lot of it is actually nurturing people and pointing out their worth. Convincing people that they are worthy of love and affection, and that they can do anything that they want to do.”

Please see this story released by CBC News on how the Moss Park OPS aims to save lives and give drug users a sense of community and purpose:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/national-moss-park-overdose-prevention-site-opioids-1.4929844