‘Many unhoused people in Toronto aren’t so much living on the street as dying on it. A record 216 homeless people died in 2021 — more than four a week.’By Star Editorial Board
Mon., April 18, 2022
If there’s one thing we can learn from new data from Toronto Public Health, it’s that many unhoused people aren’t so much living on the street as dying on it. A record 216 homeless people died in 2021 — more than four deaths a week.
But in fact we can learn two things from the data: That unhoused people are dying in record numbers, and that most are dying from street drugs contaminated with the potent opioid fentanyl and other substances. Illicit drug toxicity accounted for at least 55 per cent of deaths last year, far more than any other cause.
The scourge of drug toxicity isn’t limited to homeless people, however. While complete data for 2021 is not yet available, 532 Torontonians died in 2020 — 81 more cent more than in 2019 and 288 per cent more than in 2015.
Despite our best efforts, then — or perhaps something less than our best efforts — the problem has only grown worse. Much worse.
Granted, politicians have said all the right things. Former federal health minister Patty Hajdu, for example, implored her provincial counterparts in 2020 “to help provide people who use drugs with a full spectrum of options for accessing medication… that will help them avoid the increased risks from the toxic drug supply.”
That’s essentially a bureaucratic way of encouraging “safe supply” — providing pharmaceutical-grade opioids and other medications to users of illicit street drugs. Many health experts at the provincial and municipal levels have echoed her support for safe supply.
Such support is critical, given that safe supply is one of the most effective ways of reducing drug toxicity deaths. While supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites help to reduce overdose deaths, only safe supply can prevent poisoning.
So it’s good to see politicians saying the right things. Yet somewhere between saying and doing, they get lost. And hundreds of people lose their lives.