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Report recommends legalized heroin injection sites for Toronto, Ottawa

A kit of supplies containing syringes, adhesive bandages and antiseptic pads to be used by a drug addict inside a safe injection site




TORONTO - Researchers are recommending legalized heroin injection sites for Toronto and Ottawa.
A study - by St. Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto - says the sites would improve the health of people who use drugs.

"Using multiple sources of data, we projected that supervised injection facilities would prevent HIV and hepatitis C infections," said Dr. Carol Strike with the University of Toronto.

The study, released Wednesday, recommends three facilities in Toronto and two in Ottawa but does not provide suggestions on specific locations.

The two cities were chosen because they are home to half of Ontario's drug users. Ottawa has the highest HIV rate in the province and Toronto has the largest number of drug users.

The four-year study was conducted by Toronto Drug Strategy to recommend whether the cities should follow Vancouver's path, where similar Insite facilities have been credited as having a positive impact on Vancouver's downtown eastside.

The study may mean Premier Dalton McGuinty will change his mind about safe injection sites.

"When it comes to this kind of thing, we'll rely on the advice we get from our people like the chief medical officer of health, and if the police have advice that they wish to offer, we'll pay attention to that, too," McGuinty said. "I'll be open to the best advice available."

That's much different from what McGuinty had to say in September -- at the height of a provincial election.

"It's not in our plan, it has never been in our plan, that's not our intention to have one of those sites in Ontario," McGuinty said at the time.

A safe injection site has operated in Vancouver since 2003. It operates on an exemption to federal drug laws and survived an attempt by the federal government to revoke that exemption, after the Supreme Court ruled in its favour.

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews released a statement shortly after the study came out saying the government was still not endorsing the idea here in Ontario.

"Experts continue to be divided on the value of the sites," Matthews' statement said. "We have no plans to pursue supervised sites at this time."

She did however, thank the researchers for the study and said the government would look at their results.

"We are always prepared to listen to good advice, and we make our decisions based on evidence," she said.

Recommendations from the Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment Study 2010:

- Both Toronto and Ottawa need supervised injection sites.

- The sites should be integrated with an existing organization.

- There should be evaluation plans considering the impacts at a community level, such as drug-related crimes and arrests.

- There needs to be rules to balance the needs of the clients and surrounding community.

- At this time there is not enough evidence to implement a supervised smoking facility.

- Supervised injection facilities must have a drug strategy that include prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction.

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