Statement on the Toronto Model – a comprehensive health approach to ending the overdose crisis

When it comes to the overdose crisis, the status quo is not working. In fact, business-as-usual is resulting in the deaths of our friends, neighbours, relatives, Torontonians. Perhaps most painful of all, these deaths are preventable.

In 2020, 531 Torontonians died of opioid overdoses. That was 81% higher than 2019, when 293 Torontonians lost their lives. And that was 288% higher still than 2015 when 137 Torontonians lost their lives.

This painful story is not unique to Toronto – far from it. More than 20,000 Canadians have died of an opioid overdose in the last five years. Across our country people are dying, and together, Governments have the capacity to stop this.

It is long past time for a new, comprehensive, inter-governmental approach to this crisis. It is time to treat drug use as the health issue that it is. Not simply a criminal one.

Today, after years of advocacy and months of work on the ground with a broad range of partners and stakeholders, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health has proposed the Toronto Model – a comprehensive health approach to end the overdose crisis. It's a comprehensive inter-governmental approach to increase treatment and prevention programs, to make harm reduction services more accessible, to provide pathways and referral programs for people who use drugs to access services, and to decriminalize the small possession of drugs. It's an evidence-informed comprehensive approach, and it has my full and complete support.

Next week, Toronto's Board of Health will meet to consider this report and the proposed Toronto Model. For years drug use – and the necessary healthcare programs and legal changes necessary to improve health outcomes – was seen as controversial. Not anymore. A broad range of Toronto partners and stakeholders – from hospitals like the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to enforcement agencies like Toronto Police Services – have now come out in support of the Toronto Model.

At the Board of Health next week, I plan to strongly seek our Board's approval of this critical direction. 

For too long residents of our city – our friends, relatives, neighbours and colleagues – have suffered from the overdose crisis. Lives have been lost, families have broken down, and too many have struggled in silence. It's time to treat the overdose crisis like the urgent health issue that it is.