Interview

This is Where the Drug War Ends

Reflections from the Frontlines in Moss Park, Toronto

The Toronto Overdose Prevention Site (tops) opened in Moss Park in August 2017 to address the escalating opioid overdose crisis. The Public Health Agency of Canada predicted that at least 4,000 people across the country could die of an opioid overdose in 2017. There were 1,053 opioid related deaths in Ontario between January and October of 2017, representing a 52 percent increase from the previous year.1 The death rate continues to be higher than any other infectious epidemic in the country’s recent history, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Following months of government inaction in the face of the escalating overdose crisis and bureaucratic delays in releasing funds to the three planned Supervised Injection Sites (sis) in Toronto, a group of harm reduction workers and drug users from the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance (thra)2 took action. thra decided to open an unsanctioned pop-up site in Moss Park—the first of its kind in Ontario. They set up makeshift tents for folks to use drugs in a safer environment, with medical and harm reduction volunteers on hand to intervene in case of overdose. The opening of the tops created pressure on the city of Toronto to speed up the process of opening a temporary sis at Toronto Public Health, The Works, in late August 2017, which was later replaced with the previously planned permanent site.3 tops organizers also worked closely with harm reduction workers and advocates in Ottawa, which led to the opening of Overdose Prevention Ottawa, the second unsanctioned overdose prevention site in Ontario.4 The existence of the Ottawa and Toronto sites also put pressure on the provincial government. After five months of operation, the Ontario government started accepting applications for the opening of Overdose Prevention Sites (ops) all over Ontario.5

As of March 2018, the tops had over 5,000 people use the service for injections alone and the volunteer-run group has reversed over 185 overdoses.6 The site continues to run seven days a week, operated entirely by volunteers. Nanky Rai and Gunjan Chopra spoke with two organizers, Matt and Fiona, a month and a half into the project.

Since this interview was conducted, another overdose prevention site has opened in Toronto’s west end neighbourhood, Parkdale. With the recent election of Doug Ford as premier, the future of all harm reduction sites in Ontario is in jeopardy.

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