Overdose prevention groups urge health minister to declare emergency

Volunteer-run overdose prevention sites in Ottawa and Toronto are calling on Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins to declare a public health emergency over the current opioid crisis, just like the province did at the height of the SARS crisis in 2003.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa and the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society are also asking the province to enact a ministerial order to support the creation of such pop-up sites.

"An emergency declaration and ministerial order will expedite overdose prevention measures on an emergency basis," the groups said in a joint news release Thursday. "Overdose prevention sites, among other measures, are desperately needed in Ontario municipalities."

The sites — one in Ottawa's Raphael Brunet Park and one in Toronto's Moss Park — are currently illegal, but have so far been tolerated so far by their municipalities.

The Ottawa site opened Aug. 25 when harm reduction advocates pitched tents in the Lowertown park. Since then, they said they've received more than 1,100 visits.

Toronto's site, established Aug. 12, has seen more than 1,300 visits. Organizers of both sites say they've been able to intervene in multiple overdoses.

Sanctioned sites have since opened in both cities.

"Ontario's efforts have not been urgent or proportional to the crisis underway," the groups said in the news release, citing last year's 865 opioid-related deaths, which was a 19 per cent rise over the previous year's toll.

Also Thursday, Overdose Prevention Ottawa issued a separate news release asking supporters of its pop-up supervised injection site to attend a rally it's hosting City Hall at 12:30 p.m. Friday.

They said Coun. Mathieu Fleury "is calling for police and bylaw to shut us down immediately," and that they want supporters of the site to ask Fleury to back it.

"We've been open for 34 nights. In 34 nights we've had over 1,100 visits. Yet Fleury refuses to visit the pop-up overdose prevention site in his ward. Instead he is calling for police to shut us down," the news release states.

In response to criticism on social media, Fleury wrote that the opioid crisis is a health issue, and that's why Ottawa Public Health opened a sanctioned site on Clarence Street ahead of the opening of a site at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

He also wrote he's not threatening to arrest anyone, saying the city doesn't control the police.

"I have asked [for Overdose Prevention Ottawa] to collaborate with Ottawa Public Health on [the] transition, as committed," he wrote on Twitter.

Source: CBC News