News Release
August 31, 2023

The City of Toronto has proclaimed today, August 31, Overdose Awareness Day, aligned with the City’s participation in International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD), the world’s largest annual initiative to raise awareness of and end drug overdoses.

IOAD serves to unite communities worldwide in a shared commitment to end all preventable overdose-related deaths. The day is dedicated to fostering understanding without stigma, honouring those who have lost their lives to the drug toxicity crisis and recognizing the pain and grief endured by families and friends who are left behind. This year’s campaign theme focuses on acknowledging individuals who are also affected by overdose and often remain unseen, including many first responders and community service providers.

In recognition of IOAD, empty purple chairs symbolizing a space for those lost to drug overdose have been placed in participating City buildings, including the Metro Hall rotunda and outside of The Works harm reduction program on Victoria Street.

At City Hall, a flag will be raised to raise awareness of overdose and the stigma of drug-related death. The CN Tower and the City’s Toronto Sign will be lit in purple tonight in recognition of IOAD. Members of the public are encouraged to wear purple, fill out postcards in honour of loved ones and first responders at events across the city, and sign up for online naloxone training to help prevent overdose deaths. More information on IOAD is available online.

The City, Toronto Public Health (TPH) and community partners are steadfast in their commitment to address the drug toxicity crisis. Working in partnership across City Divisions and with local community healthcare providers, TPH provides several supports to reduce drug related harms. This includes life-saving healthcare services, such as supervised consumption services and safer prescribed supply programs, overdose prevention and response training, counselling, referrals to health and social supports, and distributing harm reduction supplies and naloxone.

Today, the City also recognizes the continuous leadership of people with lived experience, who built and continue to champion movements that reduce overdoses and drug-related harms. The City recognizes the critical role of the frontline workers who support people who use substances, and their friends and families, with compassion and dignity.

Overdoses and overdose deaths are preventable, which is why the City continues to call for increased federal and provincial investments in prevention, harm reduction, treatment supports and the expansion of access to safer prescribed supply programs. These actions are urgently needed to save lives and to improve the health and wellbeing of people who use substances and the people who care for them. More information on overdose prevention, including signs of overdose and how people can help, is available on the City’s Overdose & Prevention webpage. Overdose prevention includes learning how to effectively use naloxone to save lives. TPH offers residents online naloxone training on the City’s Naloxone Distribution webpage.

Drug toxicity crisis

Toronto is in the midst of a drug toxicity crisis with alarming death rates and devastating community impacts. Toronto Paramedic Services responded to 3,956 suspected opioid overdose calls in 2022 and 6,362 suspected opioid overdose calls in 2021. The effects of COVID-19 on mental health and substance use have exacerbated the ongoing crisis. Preliminary data for 2022 from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario show that there were 508 deaths due to opioid toxicity in Toronto. There were 590 opioid toxicity deaths in 2021 – close to a 100 per cent increase compared to 2019.

The unregulated drug supply, which includes highly potent opioids combined with more unexpected and harmful substances, significantly increases the risk of overdose in Toronto. For example, Toronto’s Drug Checking Service continues to find highly potent opioids and benzodiazepine-related drugs in samples expected to be fentanyl. Additional information is available through the Toronto Overdose Information System, which provides updates on indicators relevant to the overdose crisis in Toronto.

Overdoses are a city-wide issue. According to information from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, most people who died from accidental opioid toxicity in Toronto resided in a private dwelling at the time of their death. One quarter of the people who died from accidental opioid toxicity in Toronto in 2022 were also experiencing homelessness.

Drug toxicity remains the leading cause of death of people experiencing homelessness. In 2022, TPH received 187 reports of deaths among people experiencing homelessness. Almost half (47 per cent) of these deaths were due to drug toxicity; this information is available on the City’s Deaths of People Experiencing Homelessness webpage.

Shelter system and the drug toxicity crisis

Data show that in Q2 of 2023 there were 228 calls to Toronto Paramedic Services for non-fatal overdoses in shelters and 24-hour respite sites. Non-fatal overdoses in shelters and respite sites have decreased since 2022, which is consistent with the decrease observed across the city. More information is available on the City’s Overdoses in Homelessness Services webpage.

Every emergency shelter program in the city offers harm reduction services to clients, which may include wellness checks, peer witnessing programs and supervised consumption services. Staff are trained on harm reduction and overdose prevention and response, including administration of naloxone.

The Integrated Prevention and Harm Reduction Initiative, or iPHARE, was established in December 2020 and is a multi-pronged effort by the City and community agencies to address opioid-related deaths in Toronto’s emergency shelter system. In 2023, the City continues to provide funding for a range of harm reduction services including embedded harm reduction workers or visiting harm reduction outreach workers at emergency shelters, respites and shelter hotel locations identified as priority sites (based on overdose data); and a mobile harm reduction program, support services for enhanced intensive mental health case management and Urgent Public Health Needs Sites embedded in selected emergency shelters across the city.


“Today, we proclaim Overdose Awareness Day in Toronto to recognize the grief and loss felt by our city from the health impacts of the drug toxicity crisis. People who use drugs, families, friends, frontline workers, first responders and emergency service workers and our entire community feel it every day and many face unimaginable challenges in responding to this devastating public health crisis. All levels of government must continue to work together with action and investment in the face of this urgent public health issue.”

– Mayor Olivia Chow

“Torontonians are continuing to face the devastating impacts of the ongoing drug toxicity crisis. Last year, 508 people lost their lives to drug overdose in Toronto. These individuals were a part of our community and the anguish caused by these losses is immeasurable. It is crucial that we remain committed to supporting a harm reduction approach with enhanced community supports and resources for individuals in need. I remain determined and steadfast in ensuring that Toronto Public Health, the City and our community partners do everything we can to lessen the effects of this crisis on our residents.”

– Councillor Chris Moise (Toronto Centre), Chair of the Board of Health

“Overdose Awareness Day in Toronto is a difficult day for many in our city, as we reflect on the continued pain of losing loved ones to overdose and the family and friends left behind. In the past several years, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the devastation of the drug toxicity crisis. Overdose and overdose deaths are preventable and we have the ability and tools to save lives. I hope residents see this day as an opportunity to learn more about overdose, overdose prevention and harm reduction measures.”

– Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health

Toronto is home to more than three million people whose diversity and experiences make this great city Canada’s leading economic engine and one of the world’s most diverse and livable cities. As the fourth largest city in North America, Toronto is a global leader in technology, finance, film, music, culture and innovation and climate action, and consistently places at the top of international rankings due to investments championed by its government, residents and businesses. For more information visit the City’s website or follow us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Media contacts:

Media Relations, City of Toronto,

Media Relations, Toronto Public Health,