Toronto councillor demands action after city launches opioid plan

A Toronto city councillor and chair of the city’s health authority suggests the policy, which aims to reduce the number of people dying of opioids in the city, is ‘disjointed and ill-thought out’. Emily…

Toronto councillor demands action after city launches opioid plan

A Toronto city councillor and chair of the city’s health authority suggests the policy, which aims to reduce the number of people dying of opioids in the city, is ‘disjointed and ill-thought out’.

Emily Mihalik, vice-chair of the Toronto public health board, criticised city council for not releasing guidance on how the policy, formally called COVID-19, should work in practice. Mihalik’s comments echo those of Tony Parfitt, the mayor’s representative on the public health board, who said councillors were being kept in the dark about COVID-19’s implementation.

The $1.2bn city-backed initiative was approved in June by city council unanimously, with only one councillor, Joe Cressy, voting against it. Cressy has previously said he was the only one in council who was told of the COVID-19 guidelines before they were approved, and he has called for greater oversight of opioid public health.

Toronto’s public health boss, Dr David McKeown, has previously said that no city funds are being used to fund COVID-19. The Toronto Public Health Agency is donating “virtually all” staff and resources for the plan, which is to be implemented by community groups, councillors and police forces.

“It’s inconsistent with the information that had been shared with the public health board and does not follow the path laid out at the beginning of this administration,” Mihalik told the Toronto Star. “It leaves a lot of questions unanswered about what’s happening.”

Earlier this month, Toronto police chief Mark Saunders said in an interview with Global News that the police service is “hoping to start off small in the opioid space” with COVID-19. He has previously said that although there have been overdoses from opioids, “there’s no homicide spike, which is welcome”.

Cressy asked the city council health and social services committee in October to review COVID-19. On Friday, Cressy and three other councillors called on the health board to rescind the COVID-19 policy immediately, reports the Star.

Toronto Public Health has described COVID-19 as “a city-wide strategy that will see shared commitment across all city departments for a community-based effort to reduce the increasing opioid-related deaths and addiction to the deadly drugs in this city.”

During an October interview with the Guardian, a spokesperson for the agency said COVID-19 is the result of a collaboration of three city departments: police, public health and infrastructure.

“The city of Toronto is focusing its efforts on prevention and treatment of opioid use, first and foremost by investing significantly in order to address the growing opioid crisis in our city,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said that recommendations from the health board have to be approved by council before they can become policy, and that the COVID-19 “new policy was given the green light by city council unanimously”.

Parfitt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This article has been updated to correct the name of Emily Mihalik.

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