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Health Canada approves temporary supervised injection site in Toronto

Last Updated Aug 21, 2017 at 5:52 am EDT

Health Canada has approved the opening of an interim supervised injection site in downtown Toronto.

In a statement released on Sunday, Health Canada says the temporary site at the Toronto Public Health building on Victoria Street has passed all of the required inspections.

“Supervised Consumption sites are an important harm reduction measure and part of the Government of Canada comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate and evidence-based approach to drug policy,” read the statement.

“International and Canadian evidence shows that, when properly established and maintained, supervised consumption sites save lives and improve health without increasing drug use or crime in the surrounding area.”

The temporary site will operate in the same building as the planned permanent site, and while construction continues on the three permanent facilities which are scheduled to open sometime in the fall.

Members of Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance (THRA) opened an unsanctioned pop-up safe injection site last weekend in Toronto’s Moss Park. While THRA says the plan was always to make it a somewhat permanent site, it’s unclear what Sunday’s announcement by Health Canada will mean for its future.

Police told organizers at the time they were breaking some bylaws but the two sides came to an agreement which enabled them to remain open.

“Although Toronto police doesn’t necessarily agree totally with an injection site like this popping up because we do have the aspect of illegal drugs coming and going, the crisis supersedes that at this point in time,” said Toronto police Superintendent Heinz Kuck.

“Supervised consumption sites save lives and improve health without increasing drug use or crime in the surrounding area,” Health Canada said in a statement.

Three permanent safe injection sites were set to open in the city this fall. But harm reduction experts say those plans were made years ago, before the opioid crisis was as severe as it is now.

“I think it’s safe to assume, given what’s happening, that there may be a need for more than just the three that have been proposed,” Jason Altenberg, program director at Toronto’s South Riverdale Community Health Centre, said last month, after a weekend that saw four deaths and over 20 overdoses in the city’s downtown core.

Last week, harm reduction workers began setting up an unsanctioned safe injection site in Toronto’s Moss Park, saying the space is needed as the city grapples with a string of overdoses and suspected overdose deaths.

There are safe injection sites currently running in Vancouver, Surrey, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Montreal. Clinics are under review in many other Canadian cities, including Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton.