Improving public health in our City - Supervised Injection Services

Dear Neighbours,

Overdose is a serious public health issue in our City – we have seen a 41% increase in the number of deaths due to overdose in the last ten years.  206 people died of overdose in our City in 2013 - a staggering number. These are our neighbours, members of our communities, our fellow Torontonians. We need a comprehensive public health response that will save lives and make our communities safer.

Today, the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, recommended new measures to improve public health in our City by introducing supervised injection services within existing health facilities in Toronto. 

Three sites – Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre, Toronto Public Health-The Works and South Riverdale Community Health Centre – will be applying for a Federal exemption to operate supervised injection services in their communities.  These services will add to the range of initiatives currently underway to address the growing overdose crisis in our City.  Supervised injection services already exist in other major cities, with more than 90 operating worldwide, including 2 in Canada.

Supervised injection services will save lives.  Between 2004 and 2013 we saw a 41% increase in the number of reported overdose deaths in Toronto, and those are just the ones that were reported. Supervised Injection Services prevent fatal overdoses and the transmission of serious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. Nurses and other staff are onsite to provide medical care.  We need a comprehensive public health response that includes small-scale Supervised Injection Services (SIS) to help save lives.

Supervised Injection Services will also make our communities safer by reducing issues such as public injecting and discarded needles.  We hear stories from our neighbours, our Parks Ambassadors, and others in our communities of unsafe, used needles in public parks, playgrounds, and coffee shop washrooms.  Supervised injection services will reduce this significantly, as those who use drugs are brought indoors and provided with clean and safe places to dispose of needles and other materials, as well as counselling and medical support.

The Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre, located at Bathurst and Richmond Street, has been a part of our neighbourhood for decades. It is home to health care services, counselling services, community programming, and harm reduction services. As part of Queen West’s harm reduction services they currently operate a needle exchange program where users can pick up clean needles and return used ones.

Queen West, along with the second health centre and Toronto Public Health, is asking the Federal Government for permission to set up a few small booths within their health centres where people could inject pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of a nurse. This would allow a nurse to provide clean supplies, education on safer injection, overdose prevention and intervention, medical and counselling services, and referrals to drug treatment, housing, income support and other services.

Working with our communities to ensure that there is an opportunity to discuss these services is an essential part of this process. Over the coming days, I will be distributing information to our community to answer any questions you may have.  I will also be confirming details on upcoming public consultation in our neighbourhood, to hear from you and to make sure we work together in partnership to get this right.

Drug use is complicated and requires a comprehensive response that includes prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. Supervised Injection Services in Toronto will be one part of this comprehensive response - and they will save lives and improve community safety.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Take care,

Joe