News / Toronto

'I don’t want to die': Torontonians step up for supervised injection sites

Politicians, medical experts and those with firsthand experience speak up for proposed sites.

Matt Johnson is a member of the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance.

Liz Beddall / Metro

Matt Johnson is a member of the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance.

Two former mayors and the chief of emergency medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital are among the prominent Torontonians stepping up for supervised injection sites.

The sites save lives and improve the safety of the communities they’re in, said Coun. Joe Cressy. He’ll be City Hall with other supporters on Thursday to rally for the issue.

There’s been little opposition to the idea since Toronto Public Health unveiled a proposal for three injection sites earlier this week.

Still, Cressy thinks there will be naysayers before everything is set in stone.

“That’s the nature of politics and life,” he said.

Matt Johnson is long-time injection drug user and for him, it’s an issue of life and death.

“When I’ve used at home alone, there have been times when it’s come really close and it’s terrifying — I don’t want to die,” Johnson said. “I’m not doing this because I want to die.”

The evidence for supervised injections sites — the facts that got those prominent Torontonians onside — is so strong they can convince anyone they’re are a good idea, as long as they value the lives of drug users, he said.

 “Some people say people who use drugs are worthless. But we aren’t worthless, we have families, we have friends and people who care for us,” he said. 

Johnson doesn’t have any time for the argument that Toronto should discourage people from using drugs, rather than creating supervised injection sites.

“It just doesn’t work, period. If discouraging people from using worked, we wouldn’t have a drug problem,” he said. “The idea that taking away a safe place for people to inject is going to stop them from injecting is just naïve. The idea that having a safe place to inject is going to encourage people to inject is naïve as well — people don’t start because there’s a safe injection site.”

Johnson said he started using drugs when he was younger and struggling with mental health issues. They became a relief when life didn’t otherwise seem worth living. Since then, he’s found a role for himself working with a harm reduction program that helps others, he said.

Johnson is speaking publicly about his drug addiction because he believes users’ perspectives need to be included in the conversation around supervised injection sites.

He sees himself – with a home and a job – as more privileged than many drug users who don’t have the luxury of speaking up as freely and being heard. 

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