CUPE Ontario is standing in solidarity with hundreds of concerned Torontonians in mourning the thousands of deaths due to overdose caused by government inaction, and sounding the alarm that overdose deaths will increase after the Ford Conservatives cancelled funding for three currently-operating, and two proposed Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) across the province.
“It is completely unacceptable for the Ford Conservatives to shut down these sites right in the middle of a public health emergency,” says Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “They promised to fund 21 sites, and broke that promise. They promised to focus on addiction treatment - but with no funding announcement for mental health and addictions on the horizon, it’s yet another false promise they had no intention of keeping.”
The Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site was started in 2017 in a tent and began as a response to mounting drug overdoses in downtown Toronto, and continued government refusal to acknowledge the crisis and act to save lives. When all levels of government refused to provide a permanent structure so that the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society (TOPS) could continue their lifesaving work, CUPE Ontario stepped in and rented the group a trailer. Since then, TOPS’ trailblazing has led to the opening of 19 Overdose Prevention and Supervised Consumption Sites (SCS) across Ontario. Just one such site, operated by Toronto Public Health in downtown Toronto, has seen 40,000 visits in that time, and reversed 748 overdoses.
“These cuts are yet another example of a callous government, determined to punish the most vulnerable in our society,” says Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE Ontario, “This is a clear indication that they don’t understand the value of the work that SCS and OPS are doing, or the gravity of the situation. This is a major public health emergency and they are taking away a health service. It is simply unconscionable”.
Staff at OPS prevent overdoses in many ways. They talk to people and provide support and counselling, often helping people to access the community services they need – like housing, food, income support, health & nursing care. They are also a crucial place where referrals to drug treatment happen. When people have a safe place to go to, they will take their time and use more safely, preventing overdose in the first place.
So far this year, paramedics in Toronto have responded to 915 overdose calls and have attended an additional 45 calls where a person had died of an overdose. That’s why CUPE Ontario members clearly understand that SCS and OPS provide essential health services, equal to other health services. They also understand that it is crucial for CUPE Ontario to stand in solidarity with those who today are fighting this heartless plan to close these sites, a policy which ignores the depth of the health emergency in this province and will increase overdose deaths in Ontario.