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Ford calls on Ottawa to end approvals for safe drug supply sites, review existing ones

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on the federal government Friday to stop approving sites that supply regulated opioids to those living with addiction and launch a review of current locations in the province.

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ford requested that provincial support be a requirement for the sites, a criteria Trudeau recently said would be attached to any requests for decriminalizing small amounts of drugs for personal use.

Ford said safe supply sites, where medical professionals provide regulated prescription medications as an alternative to illicit and often toxic narcotics, are “approved solely and unilaterally by Health Canada.” This has left Ontario “completely in the dark about where these federally approved sites are operating” and the quantity of controlled substances they dispense, Ford said.

“For that reason, I’m calling on the federal government to immediately stop approving new sites and conduct a formal review of existing ones in the province,” Ford said.

Health Canada says safe supply sites help prevent overdoses, ultimately saving lives and connecting drug users to other health and social services. 

Ford’s letter comes a day after Ontario’s minister of health and solicitor general warned Toronto Public Health to drop its bid to decriminalize drugs for personal use in the city. Sylvia Jones and Michael Kerzner said the province intends to enact “enhanced accountability measures” for existing supervised consumption sites following a recent review.

The Ford government’s position is also at odds with the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, who has said decriminalization and safe supply will keep thousands more Ontarians from dying of overdoses in the coming years.

In an annual report released in March, Moore noted more than 2,500 people have died annually in Ontario in the past few years due to a drug supply that is increasingly toxic. And the number of opioid-related deaths among teens and young adults in Ontario tripled between 2014 and 2021, he said.

Research points to safe supply programs as the most effective immediate solution, Moore added.

“The system must first take urgent steps to keep people alive, such as creating safe spaces where people can use unregulated drugs and providing regulated pharmaceutical alternatives,” Moore wrote in the report.

“With these harm reduction responses in place, people who are using opioids may be in a position to benefit from offers of education and treatment, and to make choices that enable them to reduce or even stop their opioid use,” he continued.

Ontario’s chief coroner has found fentanyl in the vast majority of opioid overdose deaths, often found in a dangerous cocktail with benzodiazepines and, lately, with xylazine, a tranquillizer used by veterinarians on animals.

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