Toronto is preparing to ask the federal government to reduce the possession of illicit drugs for personal use in the city, saying the move is needed as drug-related deaths hit record highs.
A public consultation on the matter ended this week and the city’s top doctor said Toronto hopes to send its request to Health Canada later this fall.
“In Toronto, the number of deaths from all substances, including opioids, has risen to a record high,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said in a statement. “The situation remains urgent and requires further action to respond.”
Toronto Public Health said a total of 521 opioid overdose deaths were confirmed in the city last year. This represents an increase of 78 per cent from the deaths recorded in 2019, it said.
City data also indicated that in the first three months of this year, paramedics answered 1,173 suspected opioid overdose calls, which involved 93 deaths. This is compared to 46 death-related calls in the first three months of 2020.
The decriminalization request Toronto is preparing — which will ask Health Canada for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for personal drug use in the city — will follow a similar one made by Vancouver in May.
Leigh Chapman, a registered nurse and co-organizer with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, called Toronto’s planned federal request “a step in the right direction.”
She lost her 43-year-old brother, Brad, to an opioid overdose in August 2015 – just weeks after he was released from prison. His death led to a coroner’s investigation that received a series of recommendations to better protect vulnerable people living with addictions.
One of the recommendations was that the federal government should consider reducing the possession of all drugs for personal use and increasing prevention, harm reduction and treatment services.
Chapman said those measures could have saved his brother.
“Brad’s whole life would have been different if he hadn’t… literally a cycle of imprisonment for more than 20 years,” she said.
A 2016 study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that in Ontario between 2006 and 2013, one in ten drug poisoning deaths among adults occurred within a year of release from provincial captivity.
Chapman said, “I think we need to reduce the harm caused by criminalization to be able to better serve people’s needs, meet them where they are, and see that we can help them survive.” How can you help?”
Count Toronto Board of Health President Joe Cressey said city employees are “currently consulting on the details of exemptions when it comes to de-criminalizing drugs for personal use in Canada’s most populous city.” “.
“We are dealing with a public health crisis,” Cressy said. “And the way to address it is with a health response.”
Cressy said decriminalization is a key element in a range of measures needed to tackle the overdose crisis, along with treatment, increased harm-reduction services and a secure supply.
“It’s an important piece and I think the group of experts, from law enforcement to healthcare, who are calling for this kind of action on a national level is only growing because people are more likely to die from preventable deaths.” continue to die,” he said.
Toronto’s Center for Addiction and Mental Health recently issued a statement on the issue, saying that excluding offenders from substance abuse has been ineffective and counterproductive.
Cressy said that while Toronto’s request to the federal government would be city specific, the national decriminalization was something the local board of health has called for every year since 2018.
“A nationwide framework, something that CAMH has called for, which Toronto’s Board of Health has called for, can and should be done immediately.”
Health Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.