Overdose prevention needs to catch up with usage trends

Sep 5, 2023

A recent article published by Radio Canada International (RCI) and authored by Jonathon Gatehouse discussed the limitations of harm reductions measures taken by the government over the last years as the number of opioid-related drug overdoses grows and exceeds all previous records.  Furthermore, the article points out the focus of the overdose prevention measures being focused on injection, while most overdoses in Canada involve smoking.

Currently, most government-funded harm reduction facilities in Canada do not allow drug smoking, while permitting injection, oral and nasal use. “The consequences have been death. A lot of people have lost their lives. There’s just so much loss and grief,” said Ashley Smoke, an organizer of the safe consumption sites.

Residents of Cobourg, ON have been setting up pop-up safe drug consumption sites geared to people who inhale rather than inject as a response to the increasing number of opioid-related overdoses in the last months.

“It just seemed that there was more and more need, and more and more people dying, said Smoke in her interview with CBC News. “There’s just so many people that are struggling and no one to help.” 

In B.C., drug consumption by inhalation overtook injections in 2017, being responsible for 56% of drug deaths in 2021. In ON, smoking accounted for 68% of overdose-related deaths by late 2022. 

“What the country is really lacking is the indoor inhalation sites, said Patrick McDougall, a Vancouver-based harm-reduction specialist. “There’s not some safe and secure places for folks to be using right now, unlike what we have with injection.”

Currently, there are five approved indoor inhalation sites across Canada, with 50 other sites focused on injection. Ontario has one approved smoking site, which exclusively serves clients of Casey House, a specialized HIV hospital in Toronto. The facility was simple to build, according to Joanne Simons, the hospital’s CEO.

“What we needed to install was just a really big fan that could blow the smoke out as quickly as possible,” she said. The construction cost about $10,000 and was covered by hospital donors, as are the room’s ongoing operating costs.” 

However, the approval process by the provincial government took 18 months.