Doug Ford faces test over London’s supervised drug-injection site – The London Free Press

Days after Doug Ford wavered from a promise to scrap progressive sex education from schools, Ontario’s new premier is facing another choice that will test his social conservative roots.

Ford’s government was asked Thursday to approve a request from local public health officials to extend the life of the province’s first temporary supervised drug injection site, located in downtown London.

While campaigning in April, Ford said he was “dead against” supervised drug-injection sites and would abolish them if his party won the election.

Now, Ford has the choice of sticking to his pledge and pleasing the social conservatives in his base or listening to public health officials who are unanimous in supporting the supervised sites as a way to save lives.

“He has really taken two positions on this issue,” said NDP’s Peggy Sattler, MPP for London West. “His personal view is that he is dead set against these facilities, but he has also expressed that he will listen to experts.”

Brian Lester is the executive director of Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, where a temporary supervised drug-injection site is operating in London, Ont. Photo taken on Wednesday July 18, 2018. Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

The rubber will hit the road soon: the board of health for the Middlesex London Health Unit voted this week to ask the province to approve extending the temporary site’s lease that might otherwise end Aug. 15.

“It’s hard to predict” which side the government will take for supervised drug-injection sites, Sattler said.

“We saw it with their decision to scrap the sex-ed curriculum,” she said. “It’s possible that they will again ignore evidence.”

The health unit already has plans to create two permanent facilities — plans already backed by municipal councils and Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government before it was thrashed at the polls June 7 — but those plans won’t go ahead until approved by Health Canada.

The temporary overdose-prevention site opened at 186 King St. in downtown London in February, after the Wynne government provided $130,700 to keep the doors open through mid-August.

Each weekday at the site, there is an average of 55 visits by those who wish to be supervised while injecting illicit drugs, with close to half the number of visits taking place each day on weekends, public health officials wrote in a report to their board.

As of the end of June, there had been more than 4,000 visits and just six overdoses by people who recovered after staff administered oxygen or Naloxone, an anti-OD drug.

Those visits also enabled staff to connect about 100 people to services that help locate housing and combat addiction and mental illness, said medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie.

“It’s definitely had a positive impact,” he said.

During the provincial campaign Ford said the focus should be on drug rehabilitation rather than supervised sites.

But Brian Lester, executive director of Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, remained optimistic that the government will talk to experts and use the opportunity to be educated.

“I have faith that the government will make an informed decision and has an appropriate response to addiction,” he said.

Sattler also hoped the extension of the temporary site will be approved. “The province is paying for the cost of drug addictions, whether it’s through initiatives or through the criminal justice and corrections systems,” she said.

By preventing overdoses, the supervised sites save lives and save money in the long run, she said.