Toronto officials urge action on opioids after more than 100 deaths in 6 months

·3 min read

A total of 132 people in Toronto died between April 1 and Sept. 30 due to a suspected opioid overdose, nearly double the number from the same period in 2018 and 2019, a new report shows.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, released the report on Friday, providing an update on opioid overdoses in the city.

Coun. Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York), chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said all three levels of government must come together to support approaches to helping people manage addiction and recovery.

"We can't continue to let people die from poisoned opioids or a lack of services," Cressy said in a statement.

"The time to act is now."

To address the issue, de Villa is recommending a host of urgent actions that require collaboration and participation from all three levels of government. They include:

  • Expanding safer supply programs, so people can access safe opioids from a health professional.

  • Increased access to harm-reduction programs and other evidence-based treatment options.

  • Funding for grief and trauma supports for front-line workers, people who use drugs, and family members.

  • Piloting virtual and/or phone-based supervised consumption services as well as in-person peer supervision in congregate or residential settings to complement the current service options.

  • A commitment to decriminalization of the simple possession of all drugs for personal use.

"Throughout the past nine months, we have relied on the best advice from our public health experts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and keep us safe. We must do the same when tackling the public health emergency that is the overdose crisis in our city," Cressy said.

"These recommendations make it clear that we need a public health approach grounded in harm reduction, safe supply, and decriminalization."

Ford says no to decriminalization

At a news conference on Friday, Premier Doug Ford was asked if he would support the recommendation to decriminalize simple possession of all drugs for personal use. Ford responded by expressing his opposition to legalization, a somewhat different concept from decriminalization.

"Absolutely not. I am not in favour of legalizing small quantities of cocaine or heroin," Ford said.

"We aren't talking about weed or marijuana, we're talking about serious drugs that can kill people, that are highly, highly addictive."

Ford said his government's plan is to put more money and support into rehabilitation programs.

"That's why we're putting $3.8 million into mental health and addiction to support these people; not to encourage people to do more cocaine, more heroin," he said.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said a number of consumption and treatment service sites are available where people can use drugs under supervision and can get help if there are any problems.

"That's what we need to do. We need to talk to people, get them into rehabilitation if we can. That's the way these sites have been set up. We want to get people off drugs, not take more," Elliott said.