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Ontario pauses opening three overdose prevention sites as it conducts review

Last Updated Aug 14, 2018 at 9:50 am EST

Ontario’s health minister says the province will hold off on opening three new temporary overdose-prevention sites intended to help fight the opioid crisis.

Christine Elliott says the sites in Thunder Bay, St. Catharines and Toronto will be frozen as the province conducts a review of harm-reduction practices and determines if the sites “have merit.”

Overdose prevention sites are approved by the province and are temporary facilities set up to address an immediate need in a community.

Safe injection sites are more permanent locations approved by the federal government after a more extensive application process.

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa issued a statement Monday saying scientific literature and studies have concluded that both overdose-prevention and safe injection sites save lives.

Elliot said “there is evidence on both sides” and she is taking a look at “contrary evidence” which she says suggests the sites may not be very effective in terms of getting people into rehabilitation programs.

“There’s no question that they do save lives, but there are other ways that you can get people into help to save their lives as well. So I think we need to take a look at these injection sites particularly to understand (if they are) doing everything that they’re meant to do — saving lives as well as helping people that wish to get into rehabilitation,”  she said following question period on Monday.

“We need to make sure that we review all of the evidence to understand what is happening, what is happening that is saving lives, what else can we do to save more lives, are there other examples that we should be looking at besides supervised injection clinics?”

She added that if the province does go ahead with more supervised injection site, they want to ensure they are using the “best possible evidence and the best possible practices.”

 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Tory government is ignoring evidence that suggests the sites save lives while it tries to please supporters.

“People can’t get treatment if they’re dead,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath. “The Premier is interfering with local health care experts and front line workers who have been crystal clear: these sites save lives. Why is the Premier putting lives at risk?”

“What they’re doing is basically saying we’re prepared to let people die because we don’t care about the evidence, we just want to satisfy our political base,” she added.

Toronto councillor Joe Cressy called the move “devastating” and “catastrophic”

“Delaying the implementation of these services to conduct a useless review will only delay the provision of life-saving healthcare,” said Cressy. “This is comparable to announcing that all surgeries for people suffering from lung cancer will be stopped.”

In an email, a spokeswoman for Elliot said the pause impacts three locations that are not yet open and hence will not affect current users.

“The Minister is undertaking an evidence-based review of the Overdose Prevention and Supervised Consumption site models to ensure that any continuation of these services introduce people into rehabilitation, and ensure people struggling with addiction get the help they need,” sais Hayley Chazan, Press Secretary, Deputy Premier & Minister of Health and Long-Term Care.

In Toronto, an overdose prevention site set to open at the Parkdale location of the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre on Monday will now be put on hold. The centre opened a safe consumption site at their Queen West location in March, which will not be affected.

“(The Parkdale location) was scheduled to open today (Monday),” said Cressy. “They’ve already received funding from the province. This isn’t about down the road, in the future, looking at potential new sites and a review around them. This is actually about stopping the delivery of life-saving healthcare today.”

An overdose prevention site in London, Ont., recently had its funding and approval temporarily extended by the Tory government after it was in danger of closing in mid-August.

CityNews and 680 NEWS readers shared their thoughts on the decision. Scroll through below for how people are reacting to the announcement: