City of Toronto recognizes International Overdose Awareness Day

Today, Mayor John Tory has proclaimed August 31 as Overdose Awareness Day in the City of Toronto. This day is dedicated to raising awareness about the devastating impact of the ongoing opioid poisoning crisis in Toronto, and to help reduce stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs.

In the midst of the ongoing opioid poisoning crisis, the City acknowledges the grief and loss felt by families, friends and colleagues of loved ones who have died or suffered illness or injury due to opioid poisoning.

The opioid poisoning crisis remains an urgent public health crisis in Toronto and across Ontario and Canada. This crisis has been further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Preliminary data from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario shows there were 111 opioid toxicity deaths in Toronto between January 1, 2020 and April 30, 2020. Toronto Paramedic Services responded to 27 suspected opioid overdose-related deaths in July alone, the largest monthly number seen since the City began monitoring this information in September 2017. Paramedics also responded to a high number of suspected opioid overdose-related deaths in April and May with 25 responses in each month.

Toronto Public Health (TPH) continues to work with community partners to implement the Toronto Overdose Action Plan. In June 2020, the Board of Health supported a number of recommendations from the Medical Officer of Health, including calling on the federal and provincial governments to support the expansion of safer supply programs. These urgently needed programs provide access to safe medications along with other supports and referrals to health and social services. In August 2020, the federal government announced funding for two emergency safer supply projects to help people at risk of overdose in Toronto.

Through The Works harm reduction program, TPH continues to provide overdose recognition and response training, distribute the lifesaving medication naloxone, offer supervised consumption and other harm reduction services, and support agencies across the city in providing local harm reduction services. TPH also issues alerts on key drug-related issues such as when potent drugs are circulating. In addition, TPH created a COVID-19 guidance document to assist local harm reduction programs operate safely during the pandemic: https://www.toronto.ca/home/covid-19/covid-19-reopening-recovery-rebuild/covid-19-reopening-guidelines-for-businesses-organizations/covid-19-guidance-harm-reduction-programs/

More information about International Overdose Awareness Day is available at https://www.overdoseday.com/.

Quotes:

"Too many lives have been tragically lost as a result of the ongoing opioid epidemic across Canada and here in our city. I remain committed to working with our partners and the community to advance our prevention and response efforts. We strongly urge the provincial and federal governments to come together to invest in vital health and addiction supports and services to help address this ongoing crisis. Cities across this country are in need of additional frontline investments that focus on treatment, prevention and harm reduction. We need better and more timely access in our health system to treatment for those suffering from addiction. We urgently need these provincial and federal investments in the health care system to properly address addictions and to ensure that no more lives are lost to the opioid crisis.”

- Toronto Mayor John Tory

"It is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge and honour another International Overdose Awareness Day in Toronto as we continue to see so many loved ones in our community die from these preventable deaths. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on people who use drugs, their family members and friends, and the service providers who work so hard to support them each and every day. I remain strongly committed to working with the community, our health service colleagues, and other levels of government to improve our collective response to the opioid poisoning crisis."

- Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health

"We are currently battling two devastating public health crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, and the opioid poisoning crisis. As we acknowledge International Overdose Awareness Day today, we must remember that every death from opioid poisoning is a tragic loss – and one that is preventable. By taking a public health approach to drug use that focusses on harm reduction, treatment, and prevention options for people who use drugs, we can help save lives."

- Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York), Chair, Board of Health

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