Ontario quietly announces closure of two Toronto supervised drug consumption sites


The province has quietly announced that two supervised drug consumption sites in Toronto must close as of Monday.

A third site, run by the city, is in limbo but will remain open for now.

In a press release, the province announced it would be approving only 15 supervised drug consumption sites after Minister of Health Christine Elliott earlier promised a review.
In a press release, the province announced it would be approving only 15 supervised drug consumption sites after Minister of Health Christine Elliott earlier promised a review.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star File)

Amid a continuing overdose crisis in the province’s capital, the Ford government did not explain the closures.

The press release, which was posted to the province’s website at 3 p.m. on Friday, said the province would be approving only 15 sites after Minister of Health Christine Elliott earlier promised a review.

An accompanying list left off a total of six proposed sites across the province, four of which were already operating.

Those that were in operation include the Street Health location at Dundas and Sherbourne Sts. and the site at St. Stephen’s Community House in Kensington Market.

Councillor Joe Cressy, who chairs the city’s board of health, said those sites have been notified they can no longer legally open as of Monday morning. Both, he said, are applying to the federal government on an emergency basis to remain open.

“This is unacceptable and it is wrong. In the midst of this deadly crisis, we should be opening new sites, not closing the limited number we already have,” said Cressy.

“Overdose deaths are preventable. The evidence is clear — supervised consumption sites save people’s lives.”

Toronto Public Health’s The Works on Victoria St. was also left off the list. Hayley Chazan, the minister’s spokesperson, clarified that site has been “put on hold pending further review.”

A spokesperson for Toronto’s medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa said the office had just received the update from the province about The Works and said they are still in talks with the ministry.

“In the meantime, TPH will continue to offer its current supervised consumption services (SCS) and other harm reduction services,” said the spokesperson in an email.

“The overdose emergency in Toronto is a serious public health issue and remains urgent.”

The Works was one of the first sites to open in the city and has permission to operate from the federal government, unlike the other two Toronto sites that are now without provincial support. It was, however, receiving funding from the province.

De Villa noted that preliminary data for 2018 indicated there were 193 opioid toxicity deaths in Toronto in the first nine months of the year.

“This number is expected to increase as the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario completes additional death investigations,” she said. “Too many people are dying and these are preventable deaths.”

The minister’s office said sites were chosen based on new criteria, including “providing evidence of community support and demonstrating a commitment to ongoing community engagement” and considering proximity to other similar services, childcare centres, parks and schools.

“Our government takes the opioids crisis very seriously,” says Elliott in the government’s release.

“That’s why we’ve created a new Consumption and Treatment Services model that will continue to save lives by preventing overdoses and connecting people to primary care, treatment, rehabilitation, and other health and social services to ensure those struggling with drug addiction get the help they need.”

The minister’s spokesperson also said they will continue to accept applications “on an ongoing basis” but it is unclear if they are willing to approve any additional sites in Toronto.

Two more sites in London that were not yet open are also on hold, Chazan said. A third site outside of Toronto has also been ordered to close, but its location is unknown.

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags





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