Street Health's Overdose Prevention Site is OPEN:
Monday - Friday
11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Street Health has been operating health and social services at Dundas and Sherbourne for over 30 years. We opened an Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) in June 2018 as a response to the increased level of overdoses in our neighbourhood, in our driveway, and among our clients. Sherbourne and Dundas has the second highest number of calls to 911 for overdose in the entire city. The need here is great. We felt that it was important as an organization to try to do something to help the situation by providing overdose prevention services to try to connect with the people affected, in the context of a deadly drug supply that is killing many people.
The former Liberal government of Ontario gave organizations a very narrow window in which to apply for OPS funding. We did a brief survey with existing Street Health clients to determine whether there was a need for this service, and the answer was a resounding “yes”. We were successful in demonstrating both the extreme local need and an appropriate plan to provide the service, and the provincial government at the time provided us with a small amount of funding to run a two-booth site, open 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. About 2 weeks after opening, we had an open house during the reveal of Street Health’s Mosaic Project on July 13, 2018, and welcomed many interested and concerned community members. Since we opened on June 28, we have consistently seen an average of 15 visits per day during our 11 am – 4 pm operating hours. 60 % of our clients are women.
After running the service for five months, learning as we went, we engaged in an extensive community consultation. We hand delivered over 400 flyers to residents and businesses in the neighbourhood inviting them to another open house at the OPS and also a community meeting with representation from health professionals working on this issue, politicians, and the police. We invited political representatives at all levels. We invited Emergency Medical Services and the police. We hoped that this would be the first of many open, productive dialogues with residents and businesses in the community.
We have since successfully completed a lengthy “federal exemption” application process with Health Canada to ensure that we meet the federal government’s stringent criteria for providing these services. Our community consultation was deemed adequate, our hiring and staff training plan was approved, and our security measures to minimize risk were approved.
While Sherbourne and Dundas has been a hub of poverty and responsive social services for almost 100 years, there has been an undeniable increase in homelessness, visible poverty, and, most significantly, fatal and non-fatal overdoses in the past year that has hit this neighbourhood hard. This increase has been occurring since before we opened our OPS and is, in fact, our reason for opening it. When homeless people who use drugs have no place to use and are forced into public spaces, nobody wins. The approved sites in the neighbourhood are already very busy, and many of the clients we see will not go to them for that reason – they say they feel safest here. We feel strongly that removing any services at this juncture will make the situation much worse.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an OPS?
- A safe, hygienic environment for people to inject pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of staff.
- We provide sterile injection supplies, education, overdose prevention and intervention, nursing and other services and referrals.
- A low barrier, lifesaving service to address the opioid crisis which has affected the Dundas/Sherbourne area quite acutely.
Why an OPS at Street Health?
- Opioid deaths in Ontario have increased by 52% and emergency room visits due to suspected overdose have increased by 72% in the past year.
- Toronto Public Health has identified our neighbourhood as a ‘hot spot’ for overdose.
- We have been delivering harm reduction services in the community for many years
- The service is located in the fully-accessible backyard coach house within our existing space.
- The service has two booths for supervised injection and a small area for post-consumption monitoring.
- The service operates during our current opening hours and is staffed by experienced harm reduction workers with nursing back up.
- Most of the people using the service will be existing clients.
What are the benefits of an OPS?
- Reducing the number of drug overdoses
- Reducing the risk factors leading to infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis
- Enabling access to & Increasing the use of detox and drug treatment services
- Connecting people with other health and social services
- Reducing the number of publicly discarded needles; and
- Reducing the cost of health care services.
- Here is a convenient OPS flyer that we encourage you to print, post, and share.
- Safe-Injection & Overdose Prevention sites in Toronto
- Opioid Subsitution Programs & Methadone/Suboxone Clinics
- The Lancet, April 2019 "Canada's Overdose Crisis: authorities are not acting fast enough" (G. Kolla, Z. Dodd, J. Ko, N. Boyce, S. Ovens)
Opening this important service could not have occurred without the courage and determination of Street Health staff, Board, students, community members and clients. Thank you for your commitment and passion and for staying hopeful and working together to improve the lives of our clients & larger community.