New provincial guidelines make it difficult for Toronto overdose prevention sites, critics say
‘Rules are very, very arbitrary in many ways,’ overdose prevention volunteer says
Volunteers at some of Toronto's overdose prevention sites say new rules brought in by the province involving the location of the sites make it nearly impossible for some to continue operating.
New regulations, unveiled last month by Health Minister Christine Elliott, say existing sites could apply to operate but must be more than 600 metres apart from each other.
However, a quick walk downtown shows that four of the eight supervised injection sites and overdose prevention sites are much closer than that, with some less than 400 metres apart.
With the new rules, Toronto Overdose Prevention Society volunteer Gillian Kola says that it's hard to know what will happen to the existing sites.
"The real concern is that the rules are very, very arbitrary in many ways," Kola told CBC Toronto.
"We're in the middle of a public health crisis right now, and we need to be able to have a flexible response, and this will impede the response."
Stricter restrictions around schools, parks and daycares
Additionally, the new rules say if sites are between 100 and 200 metres from a school, park or licensed daycare, the sites have to conduct a community consultation.
It's another rule that Kola says is too onerous.
"They're already doing a lot of community consultation as they go along, but it's really unclear how much more is going to be required, and there is no additional funding to meet these requirements at all," she added.
"These type of arbitrary rules don't really look into the situation in individual communities and allow us to make a flexible response to those communities."
The Ministry of Health says its new consumption and treatment services model will continue to save lives by helping to prevent and reverse overdoses and approval under the model will be based on a number of factors.
"Our government takes the ongoing opioid crisis very seriously," Hayley Chazan, spokesperson for the health minister, told CBC Toronto in an email.
"We know we don't truly save a person's life until we help them beat their addiction."
The province has also capped the number of sites at 21.
There will not be any new funding for the rebranded sites, Elliott said in October, and most existing sites already comply with the new model. Those sites cost the province $31 million.
The new sites will include harm-reduction services, such as supervised consumption services, and will connect people with treatment and health services, Elliott said.
With files from Farrah Merali and Kate Dubinski