iPHARE, which stands for Integrated Prevention and Harm Reduction initiative, is a multi-pronged effort by the City and community agencies to address opioid-related deaths in Toronto’s shelter system. The initiative comes in response to the escalating opioid poisoning crisis in Toronto.
iPHARE has three key components:
Services started to roll-out in December 2020.
iPHARE will save lives, reduce public drug use and reduce drug paraphernalia in parks and public spaces. It will also assist first responders, harm reduction workers and shelter workers who are faced every day with the difficult job of reversing overdoses or coping with overdose fatalities.
Toronto is seeing a substantial rise in fatal opioid overdoses and related shelter deaths, which is increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is due to a number of reasons:
In 2020, there were more than 500 opioid-related deaths in Toronto, an increase from 300 deaths in recent years. Shelter, Support and Housing Administration is also reporting a 48 per cent increase in shelter deaths since March 2020.
This increase in overdose deaths is largely due to the increasing toxicity of the unregulated drug supply as carfentanil and other substances are added.
In November 2020, the Board of Health requested the Medical Officer of Health and City to continue to work with community partners to urgently expand overdose prevention response and other harm reduction measures in shelters.
iPHARE will work to address this request and help to advance the Toronto Overdose Action Plan.
As part of iPHARE, the City is working with TPH and other community harm reduction programs to introduce a range of harm reduction measures in all shelter locations. This includes:
The greatest risk factor for death from overdose is using drugs alone, which is occurring in some of the shelters set up in hotels to create physical distancing in the shelter system.
The City of Toronto will be establishing Urgent Public Health Needs Sites, also known as overdose prevention sites or supervised consumption services, to allow shelter residents to consume drugs under trained supervision to reduce the risk of overdose.
Shelter, Support and Housing Administration is looking at introducing supervised consumption services at a number of shelter sites across the city. The first site opened at the shelter at 65 Dundas Street East in December 2020 and another is scheduled to open at 185 Yorkland Boulevard in March 2021.
These sites are for residents of the shelter only and not open to the public.
Additional sites will be confirmed as resources, such as staff and training, are put in place.
The City hosted online information sessions about iPHARE on January 12, 18 and 19 to allow Torontonians to learn more about iPHARE and ask questions. The following presentation was given at the meetings.
The City has created a listserv to share important updates on harm reduction, mental health and consumption treatment services in the shelter system.
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