The opioid crisis has continued to be a struggle during the pandemic, which is why Canada is putting over $500,000 into securing a safe drug supply for those impacted by substance use in Toronto.
According to a release, more than $582,000 in funding is being provided over the next 10 months to secure a safe supply for the city’s drug users at risk of overdose during the pandemic.
The funding will be provided to two programs, the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre’s Emergency Safer Supply Program and the Downtown East Collaborative Safe Opioid Supply Program, run by the South Riverdale Community Health Centre, the Regent Park Community Health Centre, and Street Health.
The announcement follows news from Toronto Public Health that 27 people in the city lost their lives in July to suspected overdoses, and the project is a response to the “increasingly toxic illegal drug supply.”
Those who arrive at the centres experiencing severe opioid use disorder will be provided medication and connected to services that include treatment.
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“We see safer supply as a necessary extension of the harm reduction work our centre has been doing for decades,” Angela Robertson, executive director of Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, said in a release. “This support from the federal government is the result of unrelenting advocacy by people who use drugs and harm reduction advocates and the political will of a government who is striving to listen to those most at the margins.”
Other types of support offered include a harm reduction drop-in program, evidence-based information, supplies, food, and referrals to other service providers.
One centre has also been granted a federal exemption to run an overdose prevention site — or Urgent Public Health Need Site — allowing users to safely take drugs while maintaining proper physical distancing and self-isolation measures.
The federal government says programs like this are needed as several jurisdictions are reporting higher rates of overdose, including fatal overdoses, as the drug supply continues to become more toxic over the course of the pandemic.
“We know that law-and-order and prohibition approaches have proven ineffective when it comes to opioids and the overdose crisis,” Joe Cressy, city councillor and chair on the board of health, said. “Right now, we have a toxic supply of contaminated opioids on our streets, and these drugs are killing people.”
He added that COVID-19 is creating additional barriers for those impacted by substance use.
“We need a new, public health approach: one where people can access regulated drugs, so that they know what they are taking and can stay safe,” he said.
The announcement came on the heels of the news that the Public Prosecution Service has advised its prosecutors to seek non-criminal recourse against offenders charged with simple possession.
According to the guideline, “substance use has a significant health component,” and may also lead to crimes and conduct that poses “separate serious public safety concerns requiring a criminal enforcement component.”
In the previous system, simple possession charges may result in a criminal record or a short period of time in prison. On that, the directive says that “criminal sanctions, as a primary response, have a limited effectiveness” and as a deterrent, and do little to bolster overall public safety when “considering the harmful effects of criminal records and short periods of incarceration.”
Prosecutors will instead rely on a variety of tools to divert drug users, including Drug Treatment Courts, alternative measures, and referral hearings.