Today, the City of Toronto is launching an Integrated Prevention and Harm Reduction initiative (iPHARE), a multi-pronged strategy to address opioid-related deaths in local shelters. This initiative comes in response to the escalating opioid poisoning crisis in Toronto. It helps to advance the Toronto Overdose Action Plan, and recent recommendations approved by the Board of Health at its November 16, 2020 meeting, and recommendations from the General Manager of Shelter, Support and Housing Administration.
Starting in December 2020, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) will launch iPHARE, which has three key components:
Urgent Public Health Needs Sites, also known as overdose prevention sites or supervised consumption services, require an exemption under Section 56(1) of the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Health Canada has created a streamlined approval process to expedite implementation of UPHNS in areas of demonstrated need as part of additional measures to address the opioid poisoning crisis, which is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no requirement for public consultation or provincial government approval for these health services.
The greatest risk factor for death from overdose is using drugs alone, which is occurring in some of the physical distancing shelters. The shelter-based UPHNS will allow residents to consume drugs on-site under the supervision of trained staff. These services would not be open to the public.
SSHA is currently looking at introducing supervised consumption services at a number of shelter sites across the city, starting with the site at 65 Dundas Street East. Additional sites will be confirmed as resources, such as staff and training, are put in place.
More information: toronto.ca/OverdosePrevention
“The opioid poisoning crisis is having a devastating effect on people who use drugs, including people staying in our city’s shelters. Across the country we are seeing spikes in fatal and non-fatal overdoses during the pandemic because of the contamination of the unregulated drug supply, service reductions and physical distancing requirements. Adding these important health services to shelters will help address critical service gaps in our city.”
– Dr. Rita Shahin, Associate Medical Officer of Health, Toronto Public Health
“The only way to successfully tackle the overdose crisis in our city is through a public health approach that is grounded in evidence and the best advice of our public health experts. We know that supervised consumption sites and harm reduction programs help people to manage and recover from opioid addiction. Integrating harm reduction programming into our shelter system and ensuring that clients have full access to the supports they need is critical to addressing this public health emergency and saving lives.”
– Councillor Joe Cressy (Spadina-Fort York), Chair of the Toronto Board of Health
“The trauma to our shelter staff, other shelter residents, first responders and harm reduction workers of coping with these overdoses is having a searing impact. Reversing an overdose can be traumatic and every death is devastating.”
– Gord Tanner, Director, Homelessness Initiatives & Prevention, City of Toronto
“The only way to keep people experiencing homelessness safe and healthy during COVID-19 and beyond is to bring them appropriate health and social supports — and ultimately, permanent housing. Inner City Health Associates (ICHA) welcomes these critical harm reduction and mental health programs which complement the primary care, addictions and psychiatry services ICHA provides to Toronto’s homeless community.”
– Dr. Andrew Bond, Medical Director, Inner City Health Associates
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