Toronto's Board of Health will hold at least two town hall meetings, launch an online survey and organize focus groups to find out what the public thinks about supervised injection sites.

Shaun Hopkins, manager of The Works, the needle exchange program at the Toronto Board of Health, said the board will announce in early April the dates and locations of the town hall meetings. 

"We are open to hearing anything that people have to say, both positive and negative. Let's get it out and have an open discussion," she said.

The board is recommending that the city set up three supervised injection sites to reduce the number of discarded needles, cut down the number of overdose deaths, lower the incidence of public drug use and the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C. The sites are to be located within existing health-care facilities.

Howard Ovens

Dr. Howard Ovens, Mount Sinai Hospital chief of emergency medicine, says supervised injection sites mean fewer infections, fewer discarded needles and fewer deaths due to overdoses. (CBC)

"The consultation is going to be around concerns that anybody has about the services. We are looking for input on how to address those concerns. We want to make it as accessible as possible. And we need to do it soon."

The board, which has hired the consulting firm Toronto-based MassLBP, is spending about $20,000 on community consultation, she said. 

"The role of the meetings is to provide information, clarify misconceptions, to hear concerns," she said. "Overall, it seems people agree with supervised injection sites. They can see the benefit."

Dr. David McKeown, the city's chief medical officer of health, has to report back to the board by July 4 on the outcome of the community consultation. 

'There will be a lot of questions'

Hopkins said officials hope to solicit feedback from potential users of the sites, residents in surrounding neighbourhoods, businesses and business associations, and service providers, including such organizations as hospitals and drop-in centres.


A man injects himself with drugs at Vancouver's supervised injection site, Insite. Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott supports the program, saying they make "a tremendous amount of sense." (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The online survey would be web-based, with a link made available on the board's website. The board has not yet determined how many focus groups it will organize, where they will be held and the nature of the questions to be asked.

"Every injection that happens in a site is one that is not happening on the street or a public bathroom. The needle used by a client would be dropped into a biohazard container. Adverse reactions would be dealt with immediately," she said. 

"There will be a lot of questions about how these sites will work."

The three sites in Toronto would be located at The Works, the Queen West Community Health Centre and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre. The sites would provide safe, hygienic environments for people to inject drugs under a nurse's supervision.

More than 55 community leaders in Toronto signed a statement, released earlier in March, in support of the supervised injection sites.

According to research provided by the board, there was a 41 per cent increase in the reported number of overdose deaths in Toronto between 2004 and 2013. A total of 252 people died from drug overdoses in Toronto in 2014.