Year-long waits for drug treatment ‘unacceptable’ Chow says

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow is urging collaboration with the federal and provincial governments to make addiction treatment options more readily available, saying some have to wait for months on end before finding help, with many dying in the meantime.

Chow believed decriminalizing illegal drug possession for personal use could have been part of the fight to save lives, but Toronto Public Health’s application was officially rejected by the federal government on Friday night.

While Chow has yet to respond to the rejection, she did touch on the subject on Thursday, saying “whether you decriminalize anything it does not matter at this point because there is no treatment program. Yes, you can arrest them, arrest people, and then what? They go to jail? is there a treatment program? No. When they come out what happens to them? Are there treatment programs? No.”

Earlier Friday, Chow urged the other levels of government to collaborate with Toronto on solutions.

In a public letter addressed to Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Chow cited data that showed problematic wait times for those seeking addiction treatment.

“According to a recent environmental scan of residential treatment programs in Ontario using data from ConnexOntario, admission wait times can be as long as a year,” she wrote.

“Waiting up to a year for treatment is unacceptable.”

Chow outlined her vision for a collaborative approach to the troubling issue, saying it should include:

  • Opening a 24/7 Crisis Centre to relieve pressure on emergency departments and provide appropriate care and case management supports;
  • Expanding access to evidence-based treatment for substance use (e.g. opioids, alcohol, cannabis, tobacco, and stimulants) to ensure that people who want to recover can receive the care they need in a timely fashion;
  • Supportive housing to address complex needs and provide a safe foundation for recovery;
  • Cross-sector collaboration, featuring wrap-around social supports and referral pathways to primary care; and,
  • Robust evaluation and monitoring with a pathway to permanent, long-term provincial funding for healthcare services based on results.

The Ford government says it has invested a “historic” $3.8 billion over 10 years for mental health and addiction services.

Chow touched on that in her letter, but said more can still be done.

“I am encouraged by your commitment to develop and fund increased access to treatment options. The increased risks of the toxic unregulated drug supply, coupled with the housing and affordability crisis, pose a serious threat to community health and wellbeing. To this end, I am requesting that we work together to tackle this issue. Every resident deserves access to care and a safe community to call home.”

Ford has steadfastly refused to embrace the decriminalization model that he says proved disastrous in British Columbia, where it has been reversed.

He has also asked the federal government to pause approving new sites that supply safe opioids, and review the ones that do exist.

Health Canada lists 16 safe supply projects approved in Ontario – all but one, in Thunder Bay, Ont., are in southern Ontario.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today