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Ontario agrees to fund Toronto supervised injection sites amid opioid crisis

Last Updated Jan 9, 2017 at 9:39 pm EDT

A man uses a needle at a safe injection site in Vancouver. CITYNEWS

Ontario is committing to fund three supervised injection sites in Toronto and one in Ottawa, as the province tries to combat rising numbers of overdose deaths amid a broader opioid crisis.

Toronto city council approved the supervised injection sites at existing downtown health-care facilities during the summer, and six months later the province has confirmed its support for the plan, with an estimated annual cost of $1.6 million and about $400,000 to create the spaces, though Ontario has not committed a specific dollar amount.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins spoke to Mayor John Tory ahead of a meeting Monday with politicians, public health officials and other stakeholders discussing how the city can tackle the growing and fentanyl-fuelled opioid problem.

“I believe that community-supported and community-run supervised injection services will not only save lives, but also must be part of a larger strategy for harm reduction and supports for people struggling with addiction,” Hoskins said in a statement.

Toronto Safe Injection Sites Letter by CityNewsToronto on Scribd

Hoskins also wrote to his federal counterpart Jane Philpott in support of the sites in Toronto as well as one at Sandy Hill Community Health Centre in Ottawa, as both projects await word from Health Canada on their requests for federal exemptions from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Philpott said in a statement Monday that she was pleased to see the progress made in the applications for the supervised injection sites in Toronto.

“We remain committed to working with all of our partners to address this national public health crisis and to working with applicants to provide approvals as quickly as possible,” she said.

Safe injection sites fit in with Ontario’s opioid strategy, which looks to expand harm-reduction services, make changes to prescribing and dispensing and improve data collection, Hoskins said. The province is also developing a framework to respond to similar proposals from other municipalities, he said.

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One in eight deaths of Ontarians between the ages of 25 and 34 is related to opioid use and Toronto has seen a 77-per-cent increase in overdose deaths in the past decade, rising to 258 in 2014.

“These numbers show the need for urgent action and commitment,” Hoskins wrote to Philpott. “As minister and as a physician, I support evidence-based policy-making and any initiative around making our communities safer.”

There are about 90 supervised injection sites worldwide, and Vancouver is the only city in Canada currently offering the service.

The Coroners Service of British Columbia reported 374 illicit drug overdose deaths linked to fentanyl between January and Oct. 31 last year. Alberta reported 193 fentanyl-related deaths between January and September of last year.

Ontario, which has a population about three that of either of those provinces, reported 166 deaths linked to fentanyl in 2015, according to preliminary data for 2015 from the chief coroner’s office.