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Ottawa, Apr 21 (Canadian-Media): Doug Ford, Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) Leader had said Friday in Sarnia, Ontario that he was "dead against" supervised injection sites and added the focus should instead be on drug rehabilitation services, media reports said.
Doug Ford. Image credit: Twitter handle
"I don't believe in safe-injection areas, as I call them. I believe in supporting people, getting them help," Ford said.
"I ask anyone out there, if your son, daughter or loved one ever had an addiction, would you want them to go in a little area and do more drugs? I'm dead against that."
Such a statement in the wake of the present public health emergency with reported 1,053 opioid-related deaths from January to October of last year, compared with 694 during the same period in 2016 was not welcomed by the governing liberals as well as by New Democratics.
Health Minister Helena Jaczek, meanwhile, said Ford's comments on safe injection sites at the present public health emergency not only put people's lives at risk but also perpetuate the stigma around mental health and addiction.
"Has Doug Ford ever even visited one of these sites? Because if he has, he would know that beyond reversing overdoses, these sites regularly connect substance users to addictions treatment, withdrawal management programs and other health and social supports that they would otherwise never have access to," she said in a statement.
New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Andrea Horwath also said Ford's option would "drag Ontario backwards and deny people the care they need."
"The opioid overdose epidemic has touched every community in Ontario and devastated families," she said. "New Democrats will listen to front-line care workers, declare a public health emergency and take urgent action to save lives."
Ford said that the cost of opioid crisis was more than $1,000 a day for someone to go to rehab, and added he would rather help people who were struggling with addiction and added if he became premier in June, he will do everything in his power to eradicate ongoing opioid crisis.
When pressed for details, his campaign said Ford would release his plan to address mental health and the opioid crisis in the coming weeks.
The governing Liberals had reportedly promised to add 30,000 new long-term care beds in the next decade to which New Democrats had said they would create 40,000 in that time.
Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews said that Ford needed to explain his plans to pay for the new beds considering his earlier pledge to reduce government spending.
To this also Ford did give any suitable details and said his campaign would provide more information on costing in the coming weeks.
Francisco Sapp, co-director of the Ontario HIV and Substance Use Training Program, made it clear that opioid crisis has become a public health emergency in the wake of drugs not been decriminalized.
Till then, Sapp pointed out, that harm reduction strategies such as supervised consumption sites were the best option to keep people alive amid this public health emergency and added that for people who are in the midst of opioid crisis, access to treatment and rehabilitation centres was appropriate for them.
Sapp said abstinence-based programs would reportedly have a low success rate, and forced rehabilitation would be "drastically lower," he said.
On the other hand, reported Sapp, harm reduction had proven to be effective in reducing opioid-related deaths and said about 200 overdoses had been reversed at site at Toronto's Moss Park so far.
Zoe Dodd, a harm reduction worker in the east downtown and an organizer at Moss Park site said, "Without overdose prevention sites, lots of people would be dead, and that's what we don't want to see. I think it's time we take the politics out of healthcare. This is a public health emergency and we need to respond as such," Dodd told CBC Toronto.
"We cannot be having ideological debates, and right now we need to work with what that evidence is, and if he was premier, he should support the evidence and the evidence shows that these work," she said.
"You can't argue with 203 overdose reversals, and if you do argue against that, then you're okay with death, and I don't think that any premier of Ontario should be okay with deaths."
The province had approved earlier this year funding for seven supervised injection sites, five of which had already opened.
Late last year the federal government had exempted Ontario for any permission for approval and fund temporary overdose prevention sites. The first such site opened in London, Ont., in February.
The government had pledged more than $222 million spending over three years to tackle the growing opioid crisis in the province, with money earmarked to expand harm reduction services and hire more frontline staff.
(Reporting by Asha Bajaj)