Toronto

Toronto mayor holding emergency public health meeting after string of overdoses

Toronto Mayor John Tory has called an emergency meeting with the provincial health minister and other public health officials following at least four drug-related deaths and 20 overdoses in less than a week.

City's medical officer of health, police chief and Ontario's health minister have been invited

Toronto Mayor John Tory has called an emergency meeting with public health officials following at least four overdose deaths in less than a week. (CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory has called an emergency meeting with the provincial health minister and other public health officials following at least four drug-related deaths and 20 overdoses in less than a week.

"These are unimaginable tragedies," Tory said when speaking to reporters Wednesday. "There are young people, in many cases, who are somebody's son or daughter, in the beginning of their life and to have them lose their lives because of preventable activity is … very disturbing to me."

The mayor highlighted the fact that the city will open three supervised injection sites this fall pending any regulatory issues, which is one of the pillars of the overdose prevention policy approved by council last March.

Mayor John Tory said that the three supervised injection sites slated to open in the city this fall should help with drug death prevention. (Tina MacKenzie/CBC)

The city has already increased the availability of naloxone, which can swiftly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, among first responders. Harm-reduction programs across the city have also trained friends and family of drug users how to administer the antidote. 

Tory said that firefighters will soon be trained and equipped with naloxone, as well.

"But I know much more work [needs] to be done [and it's] something all the governments have to work on together."

Tory has invited the chief medical officer of health, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins, as well as other public health officials to the summit Thursday to see if there are any others measures that might reverse the rise of fentanyl-related deaths in the city, he said.

Drug deaths spiking in Toronto and Vancouver

Toronto city council approved its overdose prevention policy in March, a response to an increasing number of drug fatalities in this city —  258 in 2015, according to the most recent figures released — and to the so-called opioid crisis overtaking Vancouver.

That policy included recommendations to increase the distribution of naloxone, the creation of the three supervised injection sites and, finally, publishing real-time overdose data so that public health officials can see whether the strategy is working.

The panel charged with implementing those recommendations also asked the province to fund at least three more public health staff to work exclusively on the strategy.

In June, the province agreed to cover five positions, four of them full-time, to be involved in outreach and education. 

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