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Illustration Credit: Rel Ryann

Illicit narcotic use is by no means a new phenomenon in Toronto. In recent years, however, it has become a growing cause of death among the city’s users due to the ingenious and irreputable dealers of the deep web. Now it is critical to ensure users are taking drugs safely.

To help assist with this goal, the City of Toronto opened up its first official injection site this year in late August, following the success of an unofficial safe injection site that opened earlier in the month. The site was equipped with a registered nurse at all times and a police officer who stood outside the tent in Moss Park. First aid was thankfully administered immediately to one person that found themselves overdosing on opening day. This man was one of 24 who visited Moss Park that day. He “went down very fast[,] and if we were not here by the time paramedics might have arrived ... he may not have had vital signs,” according to Zoe Dodd, a frontline harm reduction worker at the site. Already producing results, it is clear how and why the city felt the need to put up an official site, thus providing great strides in the protection of the city’s citizens that wish to shoot up in relative safety. Still, questions are being raised about whether the city is doing enough.

Those who feel that recreational drug use is illegal and that it is the responsibility of the individual to handle themselves while breaking the law don’t think that safe injection sites, among other death preventative measures, should be up to the state. There are those who feel that a person willing to do drugs illegally must be ready to face the consequences that come along with them, but therein lies the problem. Most people do not know what they are buying. The obvious solution is to provide test kits for such substances so that an individual can get an accurate reading of what they are about to take, but no such test kit is available at any of the drug stores found around the city. Though they can be obtained on the Internet, it is not sold in an easily accessible manner.  Becoming more and more prevalent at music festivals, drug testing tents are saving lives since the clientele often discover that the upper they were intending on taking was instead ketamine or various other substances that, even in low doses, can prove fatal.

In the last year alone there were over 500 fentanyl-related deaths in the City of Toronto, giving rise to the following question: why is this happening? Not nearly as famous as classic substances such as cocaine or MDMA, it may seem unclear as to why so many people are taking and dying from this deadly chemical, but the proof is in the powder. Unfortunately for the many people that use these substances, these drugs tend to be odorless and colorless in their prescribable form, making it difficult for individuals to get an accurate read on the chemicals that they are ingesting. With little more than the word of their sales rep, most people go in blind at the moment of purchase as there are few other options to explore.

According to the Toronto Overdose Information System, the number of drug-related emergency department visits has steadily grown from an average of around 50 per month in 2015 to an average of around 90 per month in the first quarter of 2017. This trend is alarming, as the fentanyl-related deaths of 2016 appear to have not influenced those taking drugs to any real degree.

Fentanyl is finding its way into heroin, cocaine and other substances, and people are paying for it. This is similar to the issue in the United Kingdom with PMA, a substance often found in poor strains of MDMA that is much more potent and takes longer to kick in than the clean version of the drug. As a result, users are taking what they think to be MDMA but are not getting high. This leads users to take more, leading to overdoses when the PMA hits later in the night. This is a problem.

Though it is widely agreed that some sort of change needs to occur, this change is still waited upon. Of course, stricter laws may seem like a solution, but people have been recreationally doing drugs for as long as they have been around regardless of the laws that prohibit them from doing so. If the problem is not going to change, then perhaps making them more illegal is not the way to go. If people can be given a means to understand what they are doing to themselves, then there may be fewer deaths in fewer families, and fewer tears from fewer mothers.

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