The Works supervised injection site reopens with physical distancing measures in place

Toronto Public Health says its supervised injection site at The Works has reopened on Saturday after it was temporarily shut down in mid-March amid concerns about a lack of physical distancing at the site. 

Dr. Rita Shahin, associate medical officer of health, spokesperson for Toronto Public Health (TPH), said staff at the site at 277 Victoria St., near Yonge-Dundas Square, will provide services through appointments only.

The reopening comes after Toronto recorded 19 overdose-related deaths in March, the highest number of such fatalities since March 2019, according to Shahin. There were 345 suspected opioid overdose calls to paramedics last month.

From April 1 to 13, there were 154 suspected opioid overdose calls to paramedics, nine of which involved deaths.

“This is very concerning and underscores the critical need for life-saving supervised consumption services in our community,” Shahin said in an email to CBC Toronto on Saturday. 

At The Works, each appointment is 30 minutes long and staff are helping four clients an hour. Only two booths, instead of the previous six, are available to ensure clients maintain two metres apart.

Hours of operation will be Monday to Saturday 1:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fencing has been set up at the front entrance of the office to enable people waiting to keep two metres apart.

“These fences will remain for the foreseeable future as part of our response efforts to COVID-19,” Shahin said.

Services at The Works are being provided by appointment only and there are only two booths, instead of the previous six, available for clients. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

The Works was closed on March 18 because of health and safety reasons, according to Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health. 

“We know that COVID-19 spreads more easily in congregate settings and the Works clinic was not set up for appropriate physical distancing,” De Villa told reporters on Thursday. 

“My team is actively working to identify solutions to quickly resume providing these critical life-saving services, and ways to address physical distancing challenges. Right now, we are completing work to establish an appointment-based model for our supervised consumption service and we are aiming to reopen this weekend.”

De Villa noted that the decision to close the site was difficult.  

“In March, we made the difficult decision to temporarily close this critical health service. This was upsetting for all of us given the current overdose crisis, which has persisted throughout this pandemic, and in fact in March 2020 we saw the highest number of suspected opioid overdose deaths recorded in any month since March 2019.”

People who need the service but who don’t have a phone can make an appointment through one of The Works outreach workers.

Mayor says goal of site continues to be saving lives

For his part, Mayor John Tory told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Friday that the goal of the site remains the same.

“The reason it closed down was because of physical space requirements. It was in a relatively confined space,” Tory said.

“In the end, these harm reduction facilities, which are still controversial with a few people, save lives. We saw the number of overdoses going back up while The Works supervised consumption site was closed.” the mayor added. 

“So the notion that we can get this back open, if necessary by appointment, that’s what we’ll do, and the objective is exactly the same as it’s always been, saving lives.”

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