Doug Ford says he's 'dead against' supervised injection sites

Ontario's Progressive Conservative leader says he is "dead against" supervised injection sites and believes the focus should be on drug rehabilitation instead.

Ontario PC leader says focus should be on drug rehabilitation instead

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford said Friday he's against supervised injection sites, but says the focus should be on drug rehabilitation services. (CBC)

Ontario's Progressive Conservative leader says he is "dead against" supervised injection sites and believes the focus should be on drug rehabilitation instead.

"I don't believe in safe-injection areas, as I call them. I believe in supporting people, getting them help," Doug Ford said in Sarnia, Ont. on Friday.

"I ask anyone out there, if your son, daughter or loved one ever had an addiction, would you want them to go in a little area and do more drugs? I'm dead against that."

Ford said that if he becomes premier in June, he will do everything he can to fight the ongoing opioid crisis, saying it costs upwards of $1,000 a day for someone to go to rehab, and added he would get people struggling with addiction the help they need.

When pressed for details, his campaign said Ford would release his plan to address mental health and the opioid crisis in the coming weeks.

More long-term care beds promised

Ford, whose late brother Rob Ford struggled with substance abuse and admitted to using crack cocaine, made the comments after announcing that a Tory government would create 30,000 long-term care beds over the next 10 years to ease the burden on hospitals and cut wait times.

He did not say how much the plan would cost, nor how it would be funded. His campaign said more information on costing would come in the coming weeks.

The governing Liberals have also promised to add 30,000 new long-term care beds in the next decade, while the New Democrats have said they would create 40,000 in that time.

Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews said in a statement that Ford needs to explain how he plans to pay for the new beds considering he has vowed to reduce government spending.

Safe injection comments criticized

Health Minister Helena Jaczek, meanwhile, said Ford's comments on safe injection sites not only perpetuate the stigma around mental health and addiction, but also put people's lives at risk.

"Has Doug Ford ever even visited one of these sites? Because if he has, he would know that beyond reversing overdoses, these sites regularly connect substance users to addictions treatment, withdrawal management programs and other health and social supports that they would otherwise never have access to," she said in a statement. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath echoed that sentiment, saying Ford's stance would "drag Ontario backwards and deny people the care they need."

"The opioid overdose epidemic has touched every community in Ontario and devastated families," she said. "New Democrats will listen to front-line care workers, declare a public health emergency and take urgent action to save lives."

Doug Ford's comments drew criticism from Health Minister Helena Jaczek and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Francisco Sapp, co-director of the Ontario HIV and Substance Use Training Program, said that until drugs are decriminalized, harm reduction strategies such as supervised consumption sites are the best hope to keep people alive amid what has become a public health emergency. 

While access to treatment and rehabilitation centres is critical for people who choose to go that route, abstinence-based programs have a low success rate, and forced rehabilitation would be "drastically lower," he said.

Moss Park saves lives, harm reduction worker says

Harm reduction, meanwhile, has proven to be effective in reducing opioid-related deaths, he said. The site at Toronto's Moss Park has reversed about 200 overdoses so far, he said.

Zoe Dodd, a harm reduction worker in the east downtown and an organizer at Moss Park site, called Ford's statement today "fascinating." 

"Without overdose prevention sites, lots of people would be dead, and that's what we don't want to see. I think it's time we take the politics out of healthcare. This is a public health emergency and we need to respond as such," she told CBC Toronto. 
Zoe Dodd, a harm reduction worker in the downtown east and an organizer at Moss Park site, called Ford's statement today 'fascinating.' (CBC)

"We cannot be having ideological debates, and right now we need to work with what that evidence is, and if he was premier, he should support the evidence and the evidence shows that these work," she said.

"You can't argue with 203 overdose reversals, and if you do argue against that, then you're okay with death, and I don't think that any premier of Ontario should be okay with deaths."

The province said earlier this year it had approved funding for seven supervised injection sites, five of which had already opened.

Late last year, Ontario also received an exemption from the federal government allowing it to approve and fund temporary overdose prevention sites. The first such site opened in London, Ont., in February.

The government has pledged to spend more than $222 million over three years to tackle the growing opioid crisis in the province, with money earmarked to expand harm reduction services and hire more frontline staff.

Government data show there were 1,053 opioid-related deaths from January to October of last year, compared with 694 during the same period in 2016.

With files from CBC News