A senior hospital official and two former mayors voiced their support Thursday for supervised injection sites in Toronto.
Dr. Howard Ovens, Mount Sinai Hospital's chief of emergency medicine, and former mayors Barbara Hall and David Crombie told reporters that supervised injection sites would save lives, reduce drug overdoses and limit the spread of blood-borne diseases.
The three also released a statement co-signed by more than 55 community leaders who support the creation of supervised injection services in the city.
This is a strategy that is proven to help a vulnerable population who desperately needs our help. There is literally no down side. - Dr. Howard Ovens, Mount Sinai Hospital
Among the names on the list were five former Toronto mayors, the Anglican archbishop of Toronto and a former RCMP commissioner.
"I've been an emergency physician in a downtown hospital for over 30 years and I regularly see the damage inflicted by injection drug use," Ovens said.
"Many of these health complications are preventable, as they are not caused directly by the drugs but by the infections caused by using or sharing needles," he said.
"These problems can be painful, such as abscesses, or acutely life-threatening, such as bacterial infections of the blood. They can be chronic and complex to manage, not to mention contagious, such as Hepatitis and HIV. They are all devastating."
Ovens said he also sees "collateral damage," which includes panicky people coming to the emergency room after they have stepped on discarded needles in parks, alleys or garbage cans. He said they need reassurance and testing because "this is a very scary occurrence."
Ovens said supervised injection sites will lead to fewer infections, fewer discarded needles and fewer deaths due to overdoses. They reduce health care costs and hospital admissions.
He said they have a positive impact on neighbourhoods because they give users a safe place to inject and to discard equipment.
"Supervised injection sites do not enable or in any way encourage drug use," Ovens said. "This is a strategy that is proven to help a vulnerable population who desperately needs our help. There is literally no down side."
Former mayors say sites critically needed
Hall urged all Toronto residents to learn more about the issue of supervised injection sites.
"These are critical services needed in our city," she said. "We have the capacity to act to save the lives of our neighbours," Hall said. "We literally need to go do it."
Crombie said the supervised injection sites make the neighbourhoods in which they are located safer because public safety will be more assured than it is now. He said the selected sites will be located within existing health care facilities.
Crombie said this issue requires leadership. "These things just don't happen," he said.
Toronto Coun. Joe Cressy said he believes strongly the city needs to take action on this issue. He was unable to say how much the sites will cost.
Report calls for 3 sites in Toronto
The announcement of community support comes after a report on Monday by Dr. David McKeown, the city's medical officer of health, that called for three supervised injections sites in Toronto.
"Conditions currently in Toronto support the need for these health services," McKeown said.
"The overdose rates we're seeing in Toronto are the highest annual number to date."
The report said the sites would provide safe, hygienic environments for people to inject drugs under a nurse's supervision.
Toronto saw a 41 per cent increase in reported overdoses from 2004 to 2013, according to the report. In 2013, a total of 206 people died due to overdoses.
The three sites in Toronto would be located at The Works Needle Exchange Program, the Queen West Community Health Centre and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.