Government of Canada supports a safer drug supply project in Toronto

News release

Temporary Urgent Public Health Need Site also authorized in Toronto shelter to help reduce overdoses during COVID-19

August 20, 2020 - Toronto, ON - Health Canada

The opioid overdose crisis continues to be one of the most serious public health crises in Canada’s recent history. Tragically, in many communities, the COVID-19 outbreak is worsening this crisis. The Government of Canada is taking action to ensure communities have the tools and support they need to keep people at risk of overdose safe during the outbreak.

Today, on behalf of the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, Member of Parliament Arif Virani, announced more than $582,000 in funding over 10 months for an emergency safer supply project to help people at risk of overdose during the COVID-19 outbreak in Toronto, Ontario.

Led by the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, this project will respond immediately to the increasingly toxic illegal drug supply during the COVID-19 outbreak. It will provide pharmaceutical-grade medication to people experiencing severe opioid use disorder and connect patients with important health and social services, including treatment, which may be more difficult to access during the COVID-19 outbreak. Additional supports offered include a harm reduction drop-in program, evidence-based information, supplies, food and referrals to other service providers.

To further keep people at risk of overdose safe during the outbreak, the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre has been granted a federal exemption to operate an Urgent Public Health Need site at the COVID-19 isolation shelter in Etobicoke until September 30, 2020. Also known as an overdose prevention site, this Urgent Public Health Need Site will help people who use drugs stay safe, respect physical distancing and self-isolation measures while offering supervised consumption, harm reduction services, education and 24/7 on-call services for shelter residents.

Substance use disorder is a health condition that can be managed and treated. However, during the COVID-19 outbreak, people who use drugs are experiencing a number of increased risks, with several jurisdictions reporting higher rates of overdose, including fatal overdoses and other harms related to an increasingly toxic illegal supply. The Government of Canada is working in collaboration with all levels of government, partners, stakeholders, people with lived and living experience of drug use, and organizations in communities across the country to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the overdose crisis.

Quotes

“It is devastating to see that the COVID-19 outbreak has worsened the situation for Canadians struggling with substance use disorders, including those living in Toronto. Each life lost is someone’s family member, friend or co-worker. The life-saving initiatives announced today are part of the Government of Canada’s efforts to help people at risk of overdose stay safe during the outbreak and find access to care and treatment for substance use disorder.”

The Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Health

“We see safer supply as a necessary extension of the harm reduction work our Centre has been doing for decades. This support from the Federal government is the result of unrelenting advocacy by people who use drugs and harm reduction advocates and the political will of a government who is striving to listen to those most at the margins.”

Angela Robertson
Executive Director, Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre

Quick facts

  • Health Canada has published a toolkit with guidance for healthcare practitioners on providing medication as a treatment for substance use disorder or as a pharmaceutical-grade alternative to the toxic illegal drug supply during the outbreak.

  • Early findings from Canadian evidence have found that using pharmaceutical-grade medications, such as hydromorphone, as an alternative to the highly toxic illegal drug supply for people at risk of overdose, can help save lives and improve health outcomes. It can also help establish an entry to primary care and treatment for people with substance use disorder.

  • This safer supply project is funded through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP). SUAP provides financial support to provinces, territories, non-governmental organizations and key stakeholders for programs and initiatives that aim to prevent, treat and reduce harm of substance use issues.

  • In April 2020, Health Canada proactively issued six-month class exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to all provinces and territories to establish new temporary Urgent Public Health Need Sites. These sites would be set up within existing supervised consumption sites, shelters or other temporary sites, as needed, to help people stay safe from overdoses and limit their contact with others by following physical distancing and isolation measures during the COVID-19 outbreak. In provinces that have not yet chosen to use the exemption, organizations, such as the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, have applied directly to Health Canada for authorization to operate an Urgent Public Health Need Site.

  • On August 15, 2020, Health Canada launched a 60-day consultation process to seek comments from Canadians on supervised consumption sites and services to better understand the needs of communities across Canada during the opioid overdose crisis. Feedback received through the consultation will inform the development of proposed new regulations under the CDSA.

Associated links

Contacts

Cole Davidson
Office of the Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Health
613-957-0200

Media Relations
Health Canada
613-957-2983
hc.media.sc@canada.ca

Public Enquiries:
613-957-2991
1-866-225-0709

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