Change your stance on overdose prevention sites, health groups urge Ford

120 health organizations signed an open letter to Doug Ford urging him to reconsider his Progressive Conservative government's stance on overdose prevention sites.

120 organizations, including Canadian Medical Association, signed open letter to Ontario premier

Health groups plan to send an open letter to Premier Doug Ford on Thursday, urging him to reconsider his Progressive Conservative government's position on overdose prevention sites. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

More than 100 health groups plan to send an open letter to Premier Doug Ford on Thursday, urging him to reconsider his Progressive Conservative government's position on overdose prevention sites. 

The letter — signed by 120 organizations including the Canadian AIDS Society and the Canadian Medical Association — urged Ford "to heed the recommendations of experts in public health, front-line clinicians, harm reduction staff, and people with lived experience of drug use."

The letter also addressed Health Minister Christine Elliott.

"Rather than impeding access to life-saving health services, we urge you to work with community organizations and other health services providers to ensure greater, equitable access to supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites for the people of Ontario."

Since coming into power, Ford's conservative government has put several approved sites on pause — including one in Toronto — while the government studies the issue. 

"Minister Elliott is undertaking an evidence-based review, listening to experts, community leaders, community members and individuals who have lived through addiction to ensure that any continuation of drug injection sites introduce people into rehabilitation and ensure those struggling with addiction get the help they need," a spokesperson for Elliott said in a statement to CBC Toronto.

"All of these voices will inform the review and recommendation. In the interim, the ministry has indicated that no new sites should open to the public. We expect this review to conclude in short order and will be making a recommendation on how to proceed."

The organizations claim in the letter that the delays and closures of the sites could mean "more preventable overdose deaths and new infections of HIV, Hepatitis C and other illnesses."

"We are not going to stand by while our government undermines access to these life-saving health interventions," said Nicholas Caivano, a policy analyst with the Canadian HIV AIDS Legal Network, the group that spearheaded the letter.  

'What they need is rehabilitation programs'

Premier Ford has long been against the idea of the sites, expressing his opinion against them during his election campaign.

"I have talked to numerous people that family members have had addictions and they are telling me they don't want an area that they can do more drugs," he said. "What they need is rehabilitation programs."

The letter agrees that more rehabilitation programs are needed, but maintains that supervised injection sites and overdose prevention sites are needed too.

It further states that "Canada is experiencing a large-scale opioid overdose crisis" and it is one of the "worst drug safety crisis in Canadian history."

In Toronto alone, 300 people died of opioid overdoses in 2017, which is a 60 per cent increase from 2016.