Toronto Safe Injection Sites: A Hamsterdam for the T.Dot

AddictionSix years ago, I wrote about the opening of North America's first legal safe-injection site in Vancouver. Here's what I wrote back then.

Today marked the official opening of North America's first legal safe-injection site at 139 East Hastings St. in Vancouver, B.C. It will be staffed by 16 nurses, four alcohol and drug counsellors and peer counsellors. At the injection site, addicts get clean needles and inject themselves at small booths in a room supervised by a nurse. After shooting up, they go to a "chill-out room" before returning to the streets. Up to 800 people are expected to use the facility each day.

Already upset over Ottawa's plan to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, this facility has been criticized by U.S. officials who say it is an example of Canada becoming lax in the battle against illegal drugs. Once again, the needle's point has been missed.

Those addicted to heroin are sufferers of a debilitating disease. Many will overdose and die. Up to 40 percent of these addicts have HIV or AIDS and 90 percent have hepatitis C. Allowing people to inject in a clean place and with ready access to medical help will reduce the spread of these diseases and dramatically reduce accidental overdose deaths. This isn't about legalizing heroin and crack, this is about saving lives. "It is not I who become addicted, it is my body." - Jean Cocteau

The Star is reporting that a group of researchers are quietly studying whether Toronto and Ottawa would benefit from similar facilities.

"This is not a study to see how to establish a site. This is a study to look at whether it makes sense to have a site or not, whether there should be one site or multiple sites or no sites, and whether the sites, if there should be any, should be fixed or mobile. We will be answering those types of questions," said Dr. Ahmed Bayoumi, a co-principal investigator of the study and scientist at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital.

The feasibility study, dubbed the Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment (TOSCA), was requested by the city. It stems from a recommendation in the Toronto Drug Strategy, which was approved by Toronto council in December 2005.

I feel the same way today as I did six years ago, only more so. That's because I've since seen Hamsterdam. Hamsterdam, in The Wire, is the name of a few uninhibited city blocks in Baltimore in which Howard "Bunny" Colvin essentially legalized the illegal drug trade. There was reduced street crime, city-wide, and increased outreach of health and social services to at-risk populations. It was glorious, until it was discovered and Hamsterdam was quickly dismantled.

Here's a great summary of Hamsterdam.

Call me a left wing nutjob if you will, but drug abusers are sufferers of a debilitating disease and will use regardless. Wouldn't it be civilized to provide them with a safe haven for injection where we can ensure they're safe, not spreading disease and aware of alternative programs?

A city that does so for the least among us is a city I would be proud to call my own.

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Comments (31 - click here to join in!)


not sure how i feel about this. i see your point, but it's illegal. can u permit illagal activity like this?

August 12, 2009 @ 9:10 PM


Sure let's help drug abusers....while were at it let's help murderers by guns that will kill on the first that no-one has to suffer. Hey let's buy robbers new cars so they don't get hurt leaving a bank with all our money.

August 12, 2009 @ 9:28 PM


Sure let's help drug abusers....while were at it let's help murderers buy guns that will kill on the first that no-one has to suffer. Hey let's buy robbers new cars so they don't get hurt leaving a bank with all our money.

August 12, 2009 @ 9:29 PM

Toronto Mike

Surely we can agree drug addiction is very different from murdering or bank robbing.

August 12, 2009 @ 9:37 PM

Fredericton Steve

I just hope that there is more going on there than just allowing a place to shoot up.

If there is no emphasis on kicking the addiction then it is a waste of time.

August 13, 2009 @ 12:29 AM


Put it in Rosedale.

August 13, 2009 @ 7:01 AM

Toronto Mike

There's definitely an emphasis on kicking the addiction. That's what I like about this program, it gets all the junkies to one place where you can easily target them with info and counselling and good ol' healthcare.... not to mention the needle exchange, condoms for prostitutes, etc.

August 13, 2009 @ 8:14 AM


How about they have them in High Park?

After the junkies get their free fix they can chill out in HP?

Are you for that, Mike?

August 13, 2009 @ 8:45 AM

Toronto Mike

Actually, one in Parkdale is a pretty good idea. That's pretty close to High Park.

August 13, 2009 @ 9:00 AM

Andrew (needs a more distinct name)

Remember that Hamsterdam might have cleared the streets but moved all the decay to one area.

I agree that providing a safe area for drug may be beneficial but I also don't like the idea that we allow the use. Drugs are such a scourge on society, moreso that anything else.

I would like to hear about the results in Vancouver. How has it been effective?

August 13, 2009 @ 9:07 AM


I say 'bring it on'. It will only sink Toronto into a greater hole than its in already.

August 13, 2009 @ 9:22 AM

Mississauga Mike

At first glance and without watching the clip for The Wire it seems like it COULD improve a bad situation by regulating it some more. I am not a drug user so I don't fully understand the addiction, but by allowing these people to get it out of their system in a relatively safer environment (for themselves and for others) seems to make sense.

It's not like they're making it legal for people to buy it no questions asked from their nearest convenience store or something.

August 13, 2009 @ 9:37 AM


This is absolutely unbelievable! Let's put one across from your house Mike. It is amazing how the Left-Wingnuts rationalize everything. Hasn't our joke of a city council already put this city in enough of a hole and complete embarrasement around the world???

Toronto is a joke to outsiders and guys like you, Mike just make it worse.

I agree with Sammi, let's give thieves better cars and a clean getaway so they won't hurt anyone. Doesn'tthat support your left ways, Mike??

August 13, 2009 @ 10:59 AM


Dear Mr. Mayor Miller (C.C. Toronto Mike) - I'm a golf addict - therefore I want the city to build more golf courses and allow me (and only me, because I'm an addict ya see) to play for free.

Oh and also I could use a new driver. A Callaway, right handed 9 degree loft.

If you don't, I might have to resort to crime to get my fix. You wouldn't want that would you???

August 13, 2009 @ 11:15 AM

Toronto Mike




You obviously have never known an addict.

August 13, 2009 @ 11:38 AM

Andrew (needs a more distinct name)

It's funny how people take this concept and try and relate it to things that are irrelevant.

Moving drug use off the street and into safe environments is not the same as allowing someone the tools to commit better crimes. It is getting the addicts off the street and trying to help decrease the spread of disease. It is not a bad idea, I am just not convinced it would work.

When people start throwing "left-wing nut job" phrases around it ruins the chance to talk about something with real dialogue.

Also throwing out the "Do you want this outside of your house?" question is always stupid.
I don't want a dump outside my house, but we need that.

I don't want a jail outside of my house, but we need that.

I don't want a sewage treatment plant outside my house.......get the point?

August 13, 2009 @ 11:44 AM


I agree that it's not a crime to have a self-destructive addition, nor is it acceptance of crime to acknowledge it and provide a facility to help victims of addiction to better manage their life-long stuggle.

August 13, 2009 @ 12:27 PM


"One who knowingly, voluntarily, and with common intent unites with the principal offender in the commission of a crime." Also known as "Aiding and Abetting".

August 13, 2009 @ 1:58 PM

Andrew (needs a more distinct name)

Yes, but I am pretty sure that acutal Drug use is not a crime.

Possesion is, but the act of using it is not.

August 13, 2009 @ 2:13 PM


Mike – I have to disagree whole heartedly. For the witty point – I would much prefer a drunk-driving lane – one with rubber bumpers and independent of regular traffic. People are going to drink and drive anyway, so why not cater to them?

On a serious note – it is debatable whether the Vancouver site has done any good. I live outside of Whalley, and travel through there every day on my way to work – which is in the East End of Vancouver. The streets of Vancouver and Surrey are no safer than they were 7 years ago.

Now for the junkies – what is the success rate? I doubt we have rid the streets of any more junkies than we had before, and why, because you become a junkie before you put a needle in your arm – life does that to you. So what do I offer?

A stronger child-care program that makes no apologies for taking children away from heroin addicts would help, along with recovery programs for the children before it is too late for them to be saved. My wife works in the school district, at an inner city school – you mentioned your mother worked in education all her life. Please ask her if she could spot a child that was going to be in trouble; before they left elementary school. I bet her study will be more accurate than any government study. The programs that the Surrey School District puts on are much more advanced and honest than anything we ever had as school kids, so I really have hope that the next generation will churn out a lower percentage.

The transfer of disease happens more through prostitution than the sharing of needles, so I say, legalize prostitution, and make it government controlled, so we can ensure that the prostitutes have regular check-ups and are practicing safe sex (the tax dollars would be appreciated as well)

The Port of Vancouver is porous to say the least. Changing the way we regulate and inspect incoming goods needs to be revamped. Rotating staff so that alliances cannot be made, along with more internal watch-dogging is a start.

The US Government, in Regan’s era, came out with the war against drugs. I say if we have any conviction in reducing crime, a war on GUNS would go a lot further to reducing crime on our streets.

Finally, back to the war on drugs – legalize marijuana. Let the police worry about hard drugs and international dealers. Let the recreational smoker buy his lid with pride from a proud local farmer that just grew the sweetest green (once again, the tax dollars would be appreciated)

August 13, 2009 @ 4:01 PM


I hate to agree with my brother but i clearly do.

This is not to condone the use of hardcore drugs. This is to ensure it is done in a safe way by people who will do it anyhow.

Many people find abortion to be murder. We have evolved to the point to allow clinics and institutions to perform safe abortions (so hangers a.k.a dirty needles) are not required.

To those people helping murder is way worse than helping drug users to use drugs in a safe manor.

I am not one of those people, because i believe both would help more than hurt.

August 13, 2009 @ 6:44 PM

jason |

I lived in Vancouver for a year. Vancouver hosts the poorest zip colde in North America, Main & Hastings. There are a lot more drug problems in Vancouver that Toronto, and it's not hard to notice.

People like Sammi have jumped the gun here by saying we shouldn't 'help' the drug abusers. You simply don't get it.

Let me ask you this. Would you rather a heroin needle be discarded in a school playground or at a safe injection site?

In Vancouver, I saw a herion needle discarded on a school playground.

Now then, are we helping the drug abusers, the general population, or both?

The answer is both. So please, reconsider. I don't know that Toronto needs one of these sites, I really don't. I haven't seen that sort of stuff here compared to Vancouver where it was rampid.

All I can tell you is I don't want children playing on playgrounds where herion and crack addicts were hanging out the night before...

Food for thought.

August 13, 2009 @ 7:12 PM

jason |

P.S. Argie, you're being very silly. No one is buying these people free drugs, and no one is building you a golf course. Golf courses aren't all that good for the environment anyone, so as a tree hugging hippie, I don't even support them.

August 13, 2009 @ 7:20 PM


It's pretty easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to a proposal like this. On one hand, it can be seen as legitimizing and enabling drug use and a waste of tax money that might be better spent on prevention rather than treatment. However, there's a phrase I like to use for topics like this. "I think you'll find it a bit more complicated than that."

I can see positives and negatives for each side of this issue but until a proper study has been done on past experiments and potential outcomes I think I'll reserve judgment. I look forward to seeing the results of the study, and how it was conducted.

August 14, 2009 @ 11:15 AM


Grok - here is an interesting article to read, before you put too much into the studies.

August 14, 2009 @ 11:30 AM

Neville A. Ross
Toronto is a joke to outsiders and guys like you, Mike just make it worse.

Toronto and Ontario are only a joke because of right-wing morons like you whose voting for other right-wing morons caused us to lose all of the programs this city had, destroy all the progress we'd made as a city, and start us down on the path that we are in today. Helping drug users isn't any worse than all of the boneheaded shit Harris/Lastman pulled like amalgamation, so please take your neocon bullshit that you most likely picked up from Faux Noise and stick it up your ass.

August 14, 2009 @ 6:25 PM


Wow, a foul mouthed lefty. Just what the world needs.....

Neville, dont you have an OCAP meeting/rally/demonstration to attend tonight?

August 14, 2009 @ 9:31 PM


I used to be a heroin addict... if i would have been provided a place to safely use i might have never overdosed, or at least been so close to death. either way people are gonna use their drugs, might as well give them a safe place and clean needles to use.

November 10, 2010 @ 10:08 AM


I live in San Francisco. Recently, a County Supervisor suggested considering a program like Vancouver's for this city.

Needles to say, the response was mixed.

I think that the perception that harm reduction policies amount to "giving up" is a problem for programs like these. That's what happens when you frame a set of social policies as a "war".

Selling the idea to a skeptical public is probably the single biggest obstacle. All the studies and rational discussion in the world won't stand up in the face of a simple analogy, like winning the war on drugs, that's easy for people to grasp.

May 10, 2011 @ 7:02 PM


That 16 year old heroin addict who was abused as a child and left to the streets shouldn't have access to a safe clean environment with trained personnel who can monitor and educate him/her how to avoid getting diseases amongst other things. It's a lot better than shooting up in some dirty alley where they can nod out exposing them to horrible things or worse overdose. You people with your sarcastic comments need a place to educate yourselves on the horrors of addiction. These addicts aren't all just a bunch of lazy criminals looking to get high and do nothing else with their lives. All of you who think your high and mighty may have a good friend or family member who is addicted to a substance and is secretly crying for help. So before you post your comments inform yourselves.

October 22, 2014 @ 2:51 AM

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