Unsanctioned pop-up safe-injection site opens in Toronto

//Unsanctioned pop-up safe-injection site opens in Toronto

Unsanctioned pop-up safe-injection site opens in Toronto

With Toronto still months away from opening its first planned safe injection sites, a group of drug harm reduction workers opened an unofficial “pop-up” overdose prevention site over the weekend.

Workers from the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance pitched a large tent in Moss Park in the city’s downtown, declaring it a temporary — though unsanctioned — overdose prevention site.

The tent is stocked with as many as 140 naloxone kits to revive anyone who experiences an overdose from narcotics such as heroin or fentanyl.

The tents were set up without the approval of police or the federal government, but the site’s workers say with injection drug users dying in Toronto every week, something needed to be done.

“When you have 12 people who die over the course of five days, that is a public health emergency,” Zoe Dodd of the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance told reporters.

Dodd says they already had a visitor who overdosed in the tent on Monday night. If the tent hadn’t been there, the man may not have survived, she said.

“We’ve been telling city officials and anyone who would listen that we’re in a crisis that has been escalating since last year.”

Marilou Gagnon, an associate professor at the school of nursing at the University of Ottawa, says the sites are technically “overdose prevention sites” because their sole goal is to intervene when overdoses occur.

Supervised injection sites, like the inSite clinic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, on the other hand, are different in that they have full-time staff who offer comprehensive care to drug users, including addictions counselling and HIV-prevention programs.

Gagnon says in British Columbia, there are now 14 overdose prevention sites, and research shows they save lives.

“For example, the Victoria overdose prevention site has seen 26,000 visits and 310 overdoses, with no deaths,” she told CTV News Channel from Montreal.

Gagnon volunteered at one of these B.C. sites over a weekend last November and saw how well they work with her own eyes, reaching people who might otherwise have nowhere else to go.

“Some of these people won’t go to a supervised injection site for various reasons,” she said.

“It’s just very effective, low-cost, and the bottom line is we are saving lives with these sites.”

Earlier this month, Toronto announced it was hoping to speed up the opening of three safe injection sites it aims to open this fall.

In the interim, Toronto Public Health is following the pop-up tent organizers’ lead and opening their own temporary injection site within the next few days.

“Whether it’s interim or it’s permanent in nature, it will provide a location where drug use can occur in a supervised fashion, thereby minimizing any risk, or as much risk as we can,” Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said.

On Monday, Coun. Joe Cressy, a member of Toronto’s board of health, said the city is working to partially open at least one of the three sites by the end of this week.

Not everyone is on board with the new injection sites, however. Toronto Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti expressed concern that the facilities will attract drug users to the city.

“We’re telling them that it’s legitimized,” Mammoliti said. “We’re telling them they don’t have to worry about being arrested.”

Despite some opposition, Dodd said the problem can’t be ignored.

“We’ve been telling city officials and anyone who would listen that we’re in a crisis that has been escalating since last year.”

From 2004 to 2015, there has been a 73 per cent increase in overdose deaths in Toronto. In this year alone, 326 people have visited emergency rooms in the city due to substance abuse.

Source: http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/unsanctioned-pop-up-safe-injection-site-opens-in-toronto-1.3544860?