Toronto

Councillor 'thrilled' that 3 supervised injection sites coming to Toronto

A Toronto city councillor says he is delighted that the federal government has approved three supervised injection sites for Toronto.

Joe Cressy says harm reduction workers have been pushing for the sites for 10 years

Toronto city councillor Joe Cressy says he is 'thrilled' that the federal government has approved three supervised injection sites for Toronto. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

A Toronto city councillor says he is delighted that the federal government has approved three supervised injection sites for Toronto.

Joe Cressy, who represents Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina, and chairs the city's drug strategy, said federal approval for the sites has been in the works for 10 years and has involved much lobbying by city officials, health care professionals and harm reduction workers.

"We're thrilled that this life-saving measure will finally now be coming to Toronto, but we're also devastated that so many lives were lost before they will have opened," Cressy said Saturday.

In a release on Friday, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said Health Canada has granted the necessary exemptions from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for the sites to operate.

Cressy said the sites will make an immediate difference to Toronto.

"On the ground, it means that the escalating overdose crisis will be a little less dangerous. And that's because supervised injection sites save lives," he said.

"It has been shown, in Canada and around the world, if people can use in a safe and supportive environment, under a nurse's supervision, they are less likely to die due to a fatal overdose. It's good news for the health of our city."

Toronto has had an overdose "crisis" for more than 10 years, he said. In 2004, a total of 146 people died of overdoses in Toronto. In 2015, the number of deaths had risen to 258. The sum is a 77 per cent increase in 10 years.

"The number of people dying has gone up every year and it is now escalating rapidly," he said.

Cressy said the sites will be located within existing community health facilities. The locations are Toronto Public Health's The Works, the Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre, and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

Renovations are necessary before the sites open and he said he expects the city will have to do some hiring. Toronto officials have been expecting federal approval, he said.
 
"These sites were needed yesterday. If we could open them tomorrow, we would. Unfortunately, we do have some renovations and construction to do, so I'm hoping to see them opened in a matter of months," he said.

Toronto Public Health says work is well underway on the first site and it expects to have all three open by the end of the year.

The sites allow people to use illicit drugs under the supervision of a medical professional in case they overdose. 

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins, in a statement released on Friday, said the province has committed $3.5 million to fund the sites.

With files from The Canadian Press

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