The site was expected to close by September’s end, but the government made a last-minute decision to extend it for another month.
At the end of September, the government of Ontario province in Canada decided to extend operations of its Temporary Overdose Prevention Site (TOPS) through October—but with no current plans for a permanent site, the community says it will be ready to pick up where TOPS left off.
“If the government was going to let these people down then our community needed to step up,” said community organizer Blair Henry.
TOPS, located in the city of London, was expected to close at the end of September, but the government made a last-minute decision to extend the site for at least one more month.
TOPS is the first sanctioned supervised consumption facility (i.e. supervised injection facility or SIF) in Ontario. The first SIF in North America, Insite, resides in British Columbia province in Vancouver. A handful of American cities are planning to establish SIFs as well, despite opposition by the U.S. government.
According to Canada’s Global News, about 2,000 people have visited TOPS 8,000 times since it opened in February. The non-profit that runs TOPS—Regional HIV/AIDS Connection—estimates that there have been about 400 drug-related deaths in London and greater Middlesex County in the last decade.
Currently TOPS remains a temporary program while the Ontario government considers a permanent site. While there is no guarantee of a permanent program, volunteers are prepared to serve the community if TOPS should close for good.
Last month Blair Henry organized about 200 volunteers to help operate a “pop-up tent” in the heart of London—equipped with medical supplies and treatment services—in case TOPS did close at the end of September.
But even though the government extended the program for one more month, Henry’s group, This Tent Saves Lives, still has work to do. “We have to help use this public momentum to inform Doug Ford (premier of Ontario) that there is support for this project,” said Henry.
“There will be an overdose prevention site of some sort that will be erected should that funding (for TOPS) go, but we are going to make sure that that messaging gets out so we can avoid that,” said Henry.
According to the London Free Press, city health officials is considering a plan to reach drug users on the street with naloxone, medical supplies, and other harm-reduction supplies. A similar program exists in Vancouver.
“In urban cores, cycling tends to be the most efficient way of getting around,” said Chris Mackie, medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit. “One thing we would do, that we’ve worked on with the London Bicycle Cafe, is we would put our staff on the street on bicycles, with naloxone, so that they’re traveling around.”