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Three downtown sites pegged for potential safe-injection services

Last Updated Mar 14, 2016 at 11:05 pm EDT

The Toronto Board of Health has identified three potential locations for supervised injection sites, including one just east of Yonge-Dundas Square.

A report to be presented to the board includes next steps on implementing supervised injection sites in Toronto. While cities like Ottawa and Montreal have begun similar discussions about establishing safe-injection sites, there currently are only two in operation, both in Vancouver.

The proposed sites in Toronto are at the Toronto Public Health building on Victoria Street near Yonge-Dundas Square, at the Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre and South Riverdale Community Health Centre. According to Toronto Health, these three locations already have the busiest needle distribution programs, accounting for about 75 per cent of all needles distributed in Toronto.

“Adding supervised injection to the existing harm reduction services at these agencies will save lives and help to reduce public drug use and discarded needles in the community,” Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said in a statement.

The sites allow people to take illicitly-obtained drugs while supervised by nurses, in order to prevent overdoses.

(Click here to watch the video on mobile.)

But at an unrelated press conference Monday morning, Mayor John Tory warned that the city would not act without a long consultation process.

“Obviously this is a public safety and a public health issue, and I look forward to seeing the report,” Tory said. “This is a consultation that I’m going to be looking at with very keen interest to see that what are very substantial public health and public safety issues are properly addressed in coming to whatever decision we come to.”

Tory said he has not made up his mind on whether or not he endorses the idea of safe-injection sites.

“Clearly we have to do something in addition to what we’re presently doing,” Tory said.

According to McKeown, conditions in Toronto support the need for supervised sites. There were 100,000 visits to harm reduction services in 2015, and about 1.9 million needles were distributed to users. A recent study found 36 per cent of people who used injection drugs in Toronto were using public places like alleyways and washrooms.

“The overdose rates we’re seeing in Toronto are the highest annual number to date,” McKeown said. “Research shows that supervised injection services save lives, reduce drug overdoses and limit the spread of blood-borne diseases. I am therefore recommending that these important health services be integrated into existing harm reduction programs in Toronto where the need is greatest.”

Cities that want safe injection sites must go through the federal government to get permission.

(Click here to watch the video on mobile).