By ALAN SHACKLETON
The South Riverdale Community Health Centre will be receiving additional federal funding to help it deal with Toronto’s growing opioid crisis.
Minister of Health Patty Haidu and Mayor John Tory announced the funding on the morning of Wednesday, April 14.
It sees a federal commitment of $7.7 million for projects in Toronto to increase access to a safer supply and provide additional harm reduction services and treatment options for those dealing with opioid addictions.
“The overdose crisis continues to affect communities and families across Canada. Tragically, we have seen significant increases in overdose deaths and related harms during the COVID-19 pandemic, including in Toronto where overdoses deaths increased significantly between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30 last year,” said the press release announcing the funding.
From March to July of last year, once the pandemic restrictions started to take hold, Ontario was averaging 46 opioid overdose related deaths a week, according to Public Health Ontario. The greatest increases in opioid-related deaths were in Toronto, Hamilton and Peel Region.
The funding announced for Toronto today will support Toronto Public Health in its efforts to expand the medication options available for people with severe opioid use disorder in the city.
“Toronto Public Health’s project will be the first of its kind in Ontario to offer injectable hydromorphone for people with opioid use disorder who do not respond to currently available services and who remain at high risk of overdose,” said today’s press release.
South Riverdale Community Health Centre and Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre will also receive additional federal funding to extend their safer supply projects for two more years and expand the resources they offer to those in need.
“These initiatives will connect patients with essential health and social services, including treatment, which may be more difficult to access during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said today’s release.
The South Riverdale Community Health Centre already offers a safe place “where people can use drugs under the supervision of nurses and doctors, where they can access medical advice free from judgment, and where they can access naloxone kits, safe disposal supplies and clean syringes and pipes, and that work keeps them alive,” according to the centre’s website.
It also delivers harm-reduction supplies to those in need in an area that goes from Victoria Park Avenue to the Don Valley Parkway, and north from the lake up to Eglinton Avenue.
“The need for our programs have grown exponentially throughout the pandemic, a pandemic that has made the overdose crisis so much deadlier,” said Jason Altenberg, Chief Executive Officer of South Riverdale Community Health Centre in today’s release.
“The funding from Health Canada to sustain the SOS programs in Toronto is essential to preserving a continuum of harm reduction services that are saving lives as the opioid poisoning crisis continues to devastate communities of people who use drugs.”
Dr. Eileen De Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, said the COVID-19 pandemic has put people who use drugs at a higher risk of overdose death and that the federal support for city programs is crucial to protecting those people.
“We are very pleased to have the funding to operate this important program especially during this time of escalating overdose deaths in the City of Toronto and believe that it will save lives. The impact of COVID during the opioid crisis has meant that people who use drugs are at higher risk of overdose death,” she said.
“The implementation of this program will not only save people’s lives by reducing their reliance on the unregulated and dangerous drug supply, but will connect people to other needed supports such as case management, mental health and shelter and housing. The opioid overdose poisoning crisis has had a devastating impact on people who use drugs and we look forward to implementing a program that will save lives.”
Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said the programs being offered by Toronto Public Health and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre are life-saving for those dealing with opioid addiction.
“A toxic, illicit drug supply has been killing people for far too long,” he told Beach Metro News. “This is the type of program that will save lives in the community right now.”
Erskine-Smith is an advocate for drug reform in Canada, especially in how it relates to harm reduction programs and the criminal code. See our story at https://beachmetro.com/2021/03/12/push-by-beaches-east-york-mp-for-changes-to-canadas-drug-laws-reflected-in-upcoming-federal-bill/
For more information on opioid-related deaths in Ontario during the COVID-19 pandemic, please go to https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/data-and-analysis/substance-use/opioid-mortality