Toronto Board of Health approves safe injection sites, sending issue to council

Toronto’s Board of Health has unanimously endorsed the opening of three safe injection sites, sending the proposal to a decisive council vote next week.

The locations would be inside a Public Health office near Yonge-Dundas Square, the Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre near Queen and Bathurst Streets, and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, said safe injection sites are shown to be effective in reducing overdose deaths and harm tied to intravenous drug use.

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READ MORE: Toronto’s top doctor calls for 3 safe injection sites in city

He said public opinion has changed since the idea to follow Vancouver and open a site was first floated three years ago.

“I think we’ve come to a point in Toronto where supervised injection is something that people recognize is important and are willing to support even in their own neighbourhoods,” McKeown said.

An online survey conducted as part of city consultations on the proposed sites found overwhelming agreement that they would be beneficial, with less than one-third of respondents flagging them as a concern.

There were 258 overdose deaths in the city in 2014, a 10-year high, a city report states.

Health board chair Coun. Joe Mihevc said he was brought to tears listening to deputants at the hearing tell of losing loved ones to drug use and a “tough love approach” that did more harm than good.

“Today is a victory for communities concerned about drug use in their local neighbourhoods,” said Mihevc.

“Now we will have three sites where people can go and make sure, if they are using injection drugs, that they will be able to do it safely. And that’s a victory.”

He said the goal of the sites will be to bring overdose deaths “down to zero.”

“These are human beings, these are our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our colleagues —; and it’s an intolerable public health epidemic.”

The consultation process leading up to the vote helped build public support for safe injection sites, Mihevc said.

“I think that was one of the genius parts of the process. This was city hall really saying ‘to make this work we needed to reach out in a broad and healthy way.’ And we did that and it’s obviously paid off.”

He said the cost of the program would be $3 million in capital and operational funding, with the money to come from the province.

Mayor John Tory and Police Chief Mark Saunders have expressed support for the proposal.

WATCH: March 14, 2016: The Medical Officer of Health is calling on the city to launch consultations on opening injection sites in three existing health centres downtown. Mark McAllister reports.

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