Toronto

Ontario government backs supervised injection sites in Toronto

Ontario is committing to fund three supervised injection sites in Toronto at an estimated annual cost of $1.6 million and about $400,000 to create the spaces.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins announces $1.6M per year in funding for program

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Toronto's plan for supervised injection sites will save lives. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Ontario is committing to fund three supervised injection sites in Toronto at an estimated annual cost of $1.6 million and about $400,000 to create the spaces.

Toronto city council approved the supervised injection sites at existing downtown health-care facilities this summer, and six months later the province has confirmed its support.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins spoke to Mayor John Tory on Monday to say the province backs the city's plan, and wrote to the federal health minister, saying he believes it will save lives.

The minister's letter came just ahead of a meeting set for today in Toronto with politicians, public health officials and other stakeholders discussing how the city can tackle the fentanyl-fuelled opioid crisis.

Hoskins says safe injection sites fit in with Ontario's opioid strategy, which looks to expand harm-reduction services, make changes to prescribing and dispensing and improve data collection.

He says one in eight deaths of Ontarians between the ages of 25 and 34 is related to opioid use and Toronto has seen a 77 per cent increase in overdose deaths in the past decade, rising to 258 in 2014.

Coun. Joe Cressy thanked Hoskins for the funding in a tweet, calling it "a critical and necessary step."

Hoskins also wrote to his federal counterpart Jane Philpott in support of the sites, as Toronto awaits word from Health Canada on its request for a federal exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Ontario considering supporting other sites

Safe injection sites fit in with Ontario's opioid strategy, which looks to expand harm-reduction services, make changes to prescribing and dispensing and improve data collection, Hoskins said. The province is also developing a framework to respond to similar proposals from other municipalities, including a facility in Ottawa, he said.

"These numbers show the need for urgent action and commitment," Hoskins wrote to Philpott. "As minister and as a physician, I support evidence-based policy-making and any initiative around making our communities safer."

There are about 90 supervised injection sites worldwide, and Vancouver is the only other city in Canada with the service.

The Coroners Service of British Columbia reported 374 illicit drug overdose deaths linked to fentanyl between January and Oct. 31 last year. Alberta reported 193 fentanyl-related deaths between January and September of last year.

Ontario, which has a population about three times the size of either of those provinces, reported 166 deaths linked to fentanyl in 2015, according to preliminary data for 2015 from the chief coroner's office.

With files from CBC News

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