Toronto has joined the growing list of Canadian cities moving closer toward setting up safe-injection sites.
The city's medical officer of health released a report Monday on the health benefits of supervised injection services and steps to implement the services in Toronto.
Dr. David McKeown recommended that supervised injection sites be integrated into existing harm-reduction programs in Toronto.
An injection kit is shown at Insite, a safe injection facility in Vancouver, on May 6, 2008. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/CP)
"Drug overdose is a serious health issue in Toronto," he said. "These are essentially preventable deaths and we must do more to save the lives of these vulnerable members of our community."
McKeown said people dying from drug overdoses in the city has risen from 146 in 2004 to more than 200 people in 2013, which is the most recent year for which the city has data available.
Supervised injection sites, he said, save lives, reduce drug overdoses and limit the spread of blood-borne diseases.
The sites provide safe, hygienic environments for people to inject pre-obtained drugs under a nurse's supervision.
While there are more than 90 such sites in operation around the world, there are only two safe injection sites in Canada — both in Vancouver.
Feds must grant exemption
Final approval for safe-injection sites rests with the federal government, which must grant an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
McKeown noted that research has shown the sites do not increase criminal activity in the areas where they are located, and tend to reduce drug use and the discarded needles associated with it.
Three health service centres in the city plan to add "small scale" supervised injection services to their existing clinical health services for people who inject drugs, McKeown said.
"These three health agencies are the busiest needle distribution programs in the city," he explained. "They are all well-established in their communities and have great experience delivering harm-reduction services to injection drug users for the past 20 years."
Public meetings are currently being planned in Toronto on safe-injection sites.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he's looking forward to the consultation process.
"What we now have is a major public health issue in front of us," he said. "It is an issue that has aspects of public safety related to it and it is something where clearly we have to do something in addition to what we're presently doing."
A report summarizing community input and further steps for implementing the services in Toronto will be submitted to a July meeting of the city's board of health.