Toronto’s Board of Health will be making the final call on the establishment of three supervised injection sites for intravenous drug users in July.
But on Monday, March 21, the board of health voted unanimously to go ahead with public consultations for those sites, leading to a final vote on actually implementing the plan in the summer.
Consultation would see sites put at the Queen West Central Toronto Community Health Centre in the west, the South Riverdale Community Health Centre in the east, and The Works at Toronto Public Health’s building on Victoria St.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. David McKeown told the board all three organizations now deliver extensive harm-reduction programs to drug users, including dispensing clean needles.
But he said safe injection sites would add a layer of treatment and safety to the process, and also make for greater community safety as users wouldn’t be injecting themselves in public places and leaving discarded needles.
Dr. Jurgen Rehm, director of social and epidemiological research department at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, reported that based on his studies of similar programs in Switzerland, the safe injection sites will improve community safety.
“The research shows that they did not increase crime, they actually do reduce other problems like public drug use and discarded injection equipment,” he said.
Kevin Lee from the Scadding Court Community Centre corroborated this, noting that currently his west-end neighbourhood adjacent to the Queen West Central Toronto Community Health Centre has to deal with the fallout of street drug use directly.
“”We have million-dollar homes, and we have social housing,” he said. “Queen West distributes 300,000 needles and those needles go somewhere. At Scadding Court we’re just a block down and we do our due diligence to check the playground for needles, condoms and we’re finding them on a regular basis.”
Councillor Joe Cressey was, like Lee and the other 28 people who came to speak to the board, in firm support of the plan.
“Supervised injection services are about public health and public safety,” he said. “These programs will save lives. They’ll help move people toward treatment and will ensure that people can live in dignity. They will move needles out of parks and playgrounds and into a supportive environment.”
The plan will now go to public consultations, both in the respective communities and city-wide.