Toronto sees highest suspected overdose total since Sept. 2017; board seeks help from Ottawa


With supervised consumption services shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto saw its highest monthly total of suspected opioid deaths in recent years. 

According to a report that will be tabled at the Toronto Board of Health's next meeting, paramedics responded to 1,307 cases of suspected calls during the first four months of 2020 

"In April 2020, paramedics responded to the highest number of suspected opioid overdose deaths (25) since September 2017," the report said. 

"The ongoing opioid poisoning crisis in Toronto and across Canada has intensified and been further compounded by the COVID-19 global pandemic." 

As a result, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa is calling on the federal government to permit the use of all drugs for the duration of the pandemic, as well as fund its proposed injectable opioid agonist therapy (iOAT) at The Works consumption site, which has had to close. 

"It may sound controversial to some," Board of Health Chair Joe Cressy said. "But it is in fact a sensible, evidence-based and compassionate health approach to save lives." 

Safe supply programs already exist in several provinces, including Ontario and Cressy hopes Toronto's request will be the latest, to get people away from the illicit market. 

A program that began in British Columbia in March has seen over 1,300 people receive a legal supply, and Ontario has seen programs in cities like London and Ottawa. 

The request to decriminalize drug use has happened before, but Cressy hopes the pandemic's effect will also lead to federal action. 

"Drug use happens, it exists and telling people to stop simply has not solved the problem, rather we need to take drug use out of the shadows and treat it like the public health issue that it is," he said.