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Three new injection sites

Province approves and commits to funding as Toronto faces rising numbers of overdose deaths amid a broader opioid crisis

Ontario agrees to fund three safe-injection sites in Toronto

The Ontario government has agreed to fund three supervised injection sites in Toronto — bringing the largest city in Canada one step closer to opening its first crop of such facilities as it braces for a wave of opioid overdoses.

In a statement, Ontario’s Health Minister Eric Hoskins said he has committed to financially backing the city’s proposal, which is awaiting federal approval. The three sites will cost $400,000 to set up, and then $1.6 million annually.

“I don’t think that we can sit back and be complacent for one moment,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory ahead of the first Toronto Overdose Early Warning and Alert Partnership meeting, which he struck to get politicians, public health officials, front-line workers, and other community stakeholders talking about the issue.

“The first thing you have to do is form a partnership that sort of says everybody is going to be at the table, exchanging information, exchanging knowledge.”

His efforts come a day after a Liberal MP from Vancouver put her own government on blast for what she says has been a slow response to the fentanyl crisis, suggesting that had Ontario been hit harder, the response would’ve been more swift.

The highly potent painkiller was linked to over 500 fatal overdoses in B.C. and Alberta last year, the hardest hit provinces in the country.

“I feel it’s something we need to be doing something about faster than we are doing it,” Dr. Hedy Fry, the longtime Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre, told the Canadian Press in an interview on Sunday.

“I think that it is that the whole country isn’t suffering from the same problem — it’s B.C. and Alberta,” Fry said. “It’s now starting in Ontario, and I would suggest to you that once it gets bad in Ontario, we will notice action being taken.”

The criticism was also raised by B.C. health Minister Terry Lake at Canada’s first opioid summit last November, where public health experts, politicians, and people who had been affected by the crisis, gathered to discuss solutions.

“It took a while for them to understand the magnitude of the situation, because the numbers here in B.C. are so much greater on a per capita basis than they are in Ontario,” Lake told The Canadian Press.

In Ontario, where 2016 numbers aren’t yet available, there were 166 deaths linked to fentanyl in 2015, according to the coroner’s office.

“It’s not lost on the federal government the measures that need to be taken to address the crisis,” said Andrew McKendrick, spokesperson for health minister Jane Philpott. “With the minister looking at pulling any and all levers available at her disposal, while Canada-wide, [the measures] will impact those areas hardest hit most effectively and most predominantly because they deal with this crisis, so areas like B.C. and Alberta, who are seeing the largest number of overdoses with the fentanyl crisis.”

Over the past year, the federal government has introduced a number of measures to tackle the opioid overdose epidemic as fentanyl intensified its grip on B.C. and Alberta.

“I would suggest to you that once it gets bad in Ontario, we will notice action being taken.”

In October, the government made naloxone, an antidote to opioid overdoses, available without a prescription, shortly after making an emergency order to make the nasal spray version of the drug available to the public. In November, Philpott hosted the opioid summit, and last month, the government introduced Bill C-37, which among other things, aims to make it easier to set up safe injection sites and stop the importation of pill press machines that are used to manufacture illicit fentanyl, by giving border officials the ability to open and seize packages they deem suspicious.

Provincial and territorial finance and health ministers have been embroiled in a battle with the federal government over its offer on health care funding, and last week demanded a meeting between premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to find a solution.

Ministers from 10 jurisdictions — every province except Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland — said in a letter to Philpott and Finance Minister Bill Morneau that amount of money the federal government was proposing wasn’t enough to even sustain the current level of health care, leaving aside improvements that need to be made.

“We remain open to continued discussion with the federal government to come to a multilateral agreement on health funding among all provinces and territories,” wrote the ministers. “Thus, we think it is appropriate, that the federal and provincial-territorial First Ministers return to the table in the new year to continue this important discussion aimed at achieving a national agreement that sustains health care for the long term.”


Cover: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

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