Ottawa hopes Ontario will make ‘informed decision’ on overdose prevention sites

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TORONTO — Canada’s health minister is offering to share the federal government’s research on overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites with Ontario as the province weighs whether to allow such facilities to continue operating.

Ginette Petitpas Taylor said Wednesday she hopes Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government will make an “informed decision” when it comes to the sites, noting the province has not specified what data it will be examining as part of its review.

“That is exactly why it’s important to reach out to them and to provide them with the data that we have,” she said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“We have a lot of data that we’ve collected with respect to the importance of harm reduction and that safe consumption sites, supervised consumption sites…work, they save lives. So we certainly want to be able to share that information with them and I hope that they’ll be making an informed decision based on the data that we have.”

The Ontario government announced last month that it was halting the opening of new overdose prevention sites while it conducts its review. The province’s health minister, Christine Elliott, has said a decision on the sites will be made by the end of September.

The moratorium was condemned by more than 100 health groups, who said the move was putting lives at risk. Advocates said a string of overdose deaths in Toronto last month shows there is urgent need for more facilities, and urged the province to reverse its decision.

Premier Doug Ford has said the province is reaching out to experts to get their input on overdose prevention sites. He has also said the government’s goal is to save lives and get people off drugs and into rehab.

A spokeswoman for Elliott reiterated the point in an emailed statement Wednesday, noting that the review also includes discussions with community members and people who have lived through addiction.

Hayley Chazan wrote that the goal is “to ensure that any continuation of drug injection sites introduce people into rehabilitation and ensure those struggling with addiction get the help they need.”

Overdose prevention sites are approved by the province and are temporary facilities set up to address an immediate need in a community, while safe injection sites are more permanent locations approved by the federal government after a more extensive application process.

Petitpas Taylor, who was in Toronto to attend a symposium on what health officials have deemed to be an opioid crisis, said she has yet to meet with her provincial counterpart but would seek to arrange a meeting on the issue.

The federal minister is expected to announce new measures to increase access to treatment for substance abuse on Thursday.

More than 3,800 people died from opioids in Canada in 2017, compared to 2,978 in 2016, according to the latest figures by Canada’s health agency published last June.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press