A Toronto city councillor is accusing the provincial Health Ministry of moving too slowly to provide funding in response to the opioid overdose crisis.
Coun. Joe Cressy, who is also chair of the Toronto Drug Strategy Implementation Panel, is slamming the province for not yet agreeing to a request to fund three additional public health staff to support the city's overdose action plan.
"When you have people dying in increasing numbers on the streets, any delay is unacceptable," Cressy told CBC Toronto on Wednesday.
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He credited the province for starting to take action on the opioid crisis but said things must happen more quickly.
"Every day lost is a potential life lost and so while they are stepping in the right direction, the funds need to flow so that more lives can be saved," Cressy said following a Toronto Board of Health meeting. "The money is not flowing fast enough, and as a result people are dying."
According to statistics gathered by the province, 258 people died of drug overdoses in Toronto in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available.
The Toronto Board of Health asked the province in March to fund three permanent positions, at a cost of $374,709, to support the Toronto Overdose Action Plan. The Health Ministry has yet to agree to the funding request.
"That doesn't mean that we've denied it," Health Minister Eric Hoskins told CBC News on Wednesday. "Don't assume that we're not vigorously pursuing these proposals. We are."
Hoskins said the ministry requires more information to be able to make an informed decision about whether providing the funding is in the interests of taxpayers.
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He also said the province has made significant commitments to deal with the opioid crisis, including funding to help build and operate three safe injection sites in Toronto and providing free Naloxone kits to reverse the effects of overdoses.
"We've demonstrated very clearly on a number of fronts that we are working closely together [with the city] on this crisis," Hoskins said at the Legislature. He declined to provide a time frame for responding to the Toronto Board of Health request for funds.
On Wednesday, the Board of Health voted to assign interim staff to the overdose action plan until the funding request is dealt with.
"The longer it takes to get an answer on whether the funds will be there means the longer it takes us to get the staff in place to do the work," said Cressy.
The province launched its opioid strategy last fall.