Overdose Prevention Society scrambling for proper safe injection sites

Sarah Ovens was horrified to see a group of people standing in the rain trying to inject themselves with drugs — the tent she had set up for them a few hours earlier had blown over into a nearby tree.

Ovens, a volunteer organizer working for the Moss Park safe injection site, scrambled with her colleagues in an attempt to restore the only shelter they had.

On Friday, Ontario’s Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) provided the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society (TOPS) with a new heated tent — something the team had needed. But due to liability issues, EMAT said no to the use of any open flames, leaving the tent useless.

“We’re really lucky no one got hurt.” said Ovens. “In order to inject some drugs, people have to light a flame first.”

Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care spokesperson Laura Gallant said the reason they “strongly advised” against using open flames in the tent was because it could “result in a risk to client and worker safety, particularly since oxygen tanks are inside the tents for necessary overdose monitoring and resuscitation procedures.”

TOPS was also concerned with the size of the tent, as it was smaller than their existing 10-by-20-foot pop-up tent used for safe injections.

“There’s a risk of needle injuries when people don’t have enough room to move around, and if you’re attending to someone who has had an overdose, you need room to go and get to the oxygen tank,” said Ovens.