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Toxic drug crisis, pandemic have left front-line workers struggling to cope


Zoe Dodd had just given an emotional presentation to Toronto’s Board of Health when she realized that something wasn’t right. It was mid-November, the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated Canada’s runaway toxic drug crisis, and the long-time harm-reduction worker was in tears as she spoke about front-line workers responding to thousands of overdoses and finding bodies in portable toilets and doorways.

“The ripple of death is grim, and it will take decades for people impacted by this loss to heal,” Ms. Dodd told the board. “We are abandoned by all levels of government, who point fingers at one another, and we are burning out.”

A couple of days later, she awoke feeling foggy-headed and disassociated from reality. Her heart raced and the room seemed to vibrate. She felt like she was in another dimension.

Advocates say safe drug supply needed to combat spike in opioid overdose deaths in Canada

From the Global News article:

Dan Werb, executive director of the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation and scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said the unregulated drug supply in the illegal market has been getting increasingly more potent and toxic for decades, but the pandemic has made things even worse.

“There were border restrictions and restrictions on movements that affected international drug trafficking and national drug trafficking across Canada,” Werb told Global News. “Every industry has been affected by COVID, and illegal drugs are no different.”

He said deadly amounts of fentanyl, carfentanyl, and even etodesnitazene — a high-potency synthetic opioid — are being found on the streets.“These drugs that are showing up in the drug market are new, but the trends that have led us to seem increasingly potent and toxic chemicals show up in these drug markets [are] not new. This is old. It’s the result of trying to criminalize our way out of the overdose epidemic. And it’s just simply not working.”

Potent opioids showing up in Toronto’s drug supply for 1st time as overdose deaths mount


Several forms of extremely potent synthetic opioids are being found in random samples of Toronto’s street drug supply, which experts say is indicative of increased risk for people in a city grappling with an overdose crisis.

“What’s very dangerous for people who use drugs is just that the supply is getting stronger, and it’s also just completely unpredictable — and what people are buying isn’t necessarily what they’re getting,” said Karen McDonald, the lead for Toronto’s drug checking service, which operates out of St. Michael’s hospital.

“It’s definitely alarming to us.”

New ‘ultra potent’ opioids hitting Toronto streets in recent weeks as overdose deaths mount

From the Toronto Star article:

…The opioids were identified by the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation (CDPE), a Toronto-based research agency that collects and tests small samples of street drugs collected from users and dealers. The ultra-potent opioids were primarily found in samples that were thought to be straight fentanyl.

An analysis of newly obtained data on opioid overdoses across the country — including numbers from provincial coroners, street drug tests in Ontario and B.C., and a previously unpublished national drug user survey — reveals a national crisis spiking into uncharted territory during the pandemic.

Toronto saw an 81 per cent jump in opioid-related deaths between 2019 and late 2020.

Border closures and drug supply chain disruptions are blamed by researchers for creating a cocktail of new drugs and compounds.

“Any time you disrupt drug trafficking routes, unexpected things will happen,” said Daniel Werb, the executive director of the CDPE and a research scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital. “That’s why you see increasingly potent opioids on the market because the higher the potency, the more efficient the package is, the easier it is to traffic.”

Islanders can access rapid HIV self-tests anonymously through national program


A new HIV self-testing and research program could ensure more Islanders get a diagnosis and the followup support they need.

The I’m Ready program is national in scope and was launched this month by Reach Nexus, a research group. Canadians can order HIV test kits online through a mobile app and get them delivered to their home, or to a local pick-up spot. PEERS Alliance, a sexual health centre in Charlottetown, is a pick-up location on P.E.I. for the program.

“We estimate that there’s over 8,000 people that are living with HIV in Canada and don’t know it,” said Dr. Sean Rourke, a clinical neuropsychologist and a scientist at the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, which is involved in the program. 

They were afraid of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. How a talk with the family doctor changed their minds


Dr. Tara Kiran knew she was close. The family physician had spent weeks trying to convince her patients, a mom and daughter who lived and worked in a COVID-19 hot spot in Toronto, to get vaccinated. Months had passed since they became eligible for their shots. Now they were in her office together for an appointment and it seemed like they might finally be ready.

The patients, Esther, 66, and her daughter Alice, 39, trusted Kiran. She had been their family doctor for nearly a decade. She knew their health histories, their families, what they did for a living, what kept them up at night. If they decided to get the vaccine, there was only one person they wanted holding the syringe.

“I’m not getting it unless I can get it from Dr. Kiran,” Alice told her husband before the appointment.

There was only one problem. Kiran didn’t have any vaccine to give.

That day in June, Esther and Alice sat in Kiran’s office, a small room with green walls, an examination bed, three pieces of art hung slightly askew and two chairs alongside the doctor’s desk from which the patients asked a question she heard often: Can we get the vaccine here, in the clinic, from you?

Improving HIV testing and care in Canada: I’m Ready and Sex Now – Test@Home

Interview with MAP scientist Dr. Sean B. Rourke and Prof. Nathan Lachowsky of CBRC on the CATIE Blog

HIV self-testing was approved in Canada in November 2020, largely thanks to research conducted by REACH Nexus, part of Unity Health Toronto’s MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions. But approval does not mean access – the next step is getting self-tests into the hands of people who don’t know they have HIV, and linking them to follow-up treatment and care.

REACH and the Community-Based Research Centre are working on two initiatives that will help do just that: REACH’s I’m Ready HIV self-testing research program (complete with the I’m Ready, Talk peer telehealth service, on which REACH partners with the CBRC) and the REACH-funded Test@Home component of the 2021 edition of CBRC’s Sex Now survey.

To learn more about these initiatives, CATIE spoke with Prof. Nathan Lachowsky of CBRC and Dr. Sean B. Rourke of REACH.

Access to HIV self-testing kits expanded in York Region by CAYR and I’m Ready


As the global pandemic continues, a global epidemic rages on and is often undiagnosed: HIV.

This month, however, CAYR Community Connections and the I’m Ready research program, an initiative of the REACH Nexus research group, part of MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, St. Michael’s Hospital, have partnered to break down the stigma surrounding the virus and increase access to free self-testing kits across York Region.

The aim of the St. Michael’s pilot is to reach the undiagnosed with a goal of ending the epidemic in Canada, distributing 50,000 kits across Canada so people know their status and, if needed, are connected to care that can save lives.

Staples Canada helps MAP ‘Even the Odds’ with a new partnership that tackles inequities in communities across Canada

June 23, 2021 – Social and economic status often determine how easy it is for people to access the resources that are essential for good health. Staples Canada, The Working and Learning Company, and MAP, a world-class research centre based at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, have announced a first-of-its-kind partnership called Even the Odds, a three-year, $3-million commitment that aims to tackle inequities and create healthier communities across Canada.

Rooted in the shared belief that everyone should have the opportunity to thrive, Even the Odds will come to life with a national awareness campaign, corporate donations, as well as in-store and online fundraising efforts. Donations will support MAP’s innovative research projects across Canada to address issues such as homelessness, unequal access to health care and medicine, and the lifelong effects of childhood poverty.

“We’re incredibly grateful for Staples Canada’s commitment and support,” said Dr. Stephen Hwang, Director, MAP. “We share a vision of a future that’s fair for everyone, and we hope it will inspire and energize people across Canada to learn more.”

In Canada, over 1.2 million children live in households that struggle to afford fresh fruit and vegetables, at least one million people sacrifice basic essentials to pay for medical prescriptions, and 235,000 are homeless every year. COVID-19 infections are also more than three times higher among people of colour. Internationally recognized for ground-breaking science and innovation, MAP scientists work in partnership with communities and government leaders to address these issues and more through the development of equity-focused program and policy solutions.

“As one of Canada’s largest retailers, we have a responsibility to contribute to and strengthen the communities in which we operate,” said David Boone, CEO, Staples Canada. “We are excited to help fund MAP’s innovative research programs to address inequities facing our communities, and to lend our support through our national reach, and our network of associates and customers.”

Even the Odds will launch with in-store and online fundraising on June 28, 2021. To learn more, visit

About MAP

MAP is a world-leading research centre dedicated to creating a healthier future for all. Through big-picture research and street-level solutions, MAP scientists tackle complex community health issues—many at the intersection of health and inequity. MAP’s 27 scientists and over 120 staff and students work in partnership with communities, researchers, and government leaders across Canada to address issues such as homelessness, unequal access to health care and medicine, and the lifelong effects of childhood poverty. MAP is part of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto. For more information, visit

About Staples Canada

Staples Canada is The Working and Learning Company. With a focus on community, inspiration and services, the privately-owned company is committed to being a dynamic, inspiring partner to customers who visit its over 300 locations and The company has two brands that support business customers, Staples Preferred for small businesses and Staples Professional for medium to large-sized enterprises, as well as five co-working facilities in Toronto, Kelowna, Oakville and Ottawa under the banner Staples Studio. Staples Canada is a proud partner of MAP through its Even the Odds campaign, which aims to tackle inequities in communities across Canada and helps make a future that’s fair for everyone. Visit for more information or get social with @StaplesCanada on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Media Information

Kathleen Stelmach, Staples Canada, 905-737-1147 Ext. 578,
Noah Gomberg, Golin, 437-246-3975,

À chance égale : Bureau en Gros et le Centre MAP unissent leurs forces pour s’attaquer aux inégalités dans les collectivités partout au Canada

23 juin 2021 – Notre situation sociale et économique détermine bien souvent la facilité avec laquelle nous pouvons accéder aux ressources essentielles permettant de saines habitudes de vie. Bureau en Gros, l’Entreprise du travail et de l’apprentissage, et le Centre MAP, un centre de recherche mondialement reconnu établi à l’Hôpital St. Michael’s de Toronto, ont annoncé la création d’un partenariat unique en son genre. Intitulé À chance égale, cet engagement de trois millions de dollars sur trois ans vise à réduire les inégalités et à créer des collectivités plus en santé partout au pays.

Ancré dans la conviction profonde que tout le monde devrait avoir l’occasion de s’épanouir et de grandir, À chance égale prendra vie sous forme de campagne de sensibilisation nationale, de dons d’entreprise et de collecte de fonds en magasin et en ligne. Les fonds amassés permettront d’appuyer les projets de recherche novateurs du MAP à l’échelle du pays, dont l’objectif premier est de trouver des solutions à des problèmes comme l’itinérance, l’accès aux soins de santé et aux médicaments ainsi que les effets collatéraux permanents de la pauvreté chez les enfants.

« Nous sommes extrêmement reconnaissants de l’engagement et du soutien de Bureau en Gros », a déclaré le Dr Stephen Hwang, directeur du MAP. « Nous partageons la même vision d’un avenir équitable pour tous et nous espérons que cela inspirera et stimulera les gens de partout au Canada à en apprendre davantage sur ces enjeux. »

Au Canada, plus de 1,2 million d’enfants vivent dans des ménages qui peinent à s’offrir des fruits et des légumes, au moins un million de personnes doivent se priver de produits essentiels afin de pouvoir se payer des médicaments d’ordonnance et 235 000 se retrouvent sans abri chaque année. Les cas de COVID-19 sont au moins trois fois plus élevés chez les personnes de couleur. Reconnus internationalement pour leurs innovations et leurs travaux scientifiques de pointe, les chercheurs du MAP travaillent en partenariat avec les collectivités et les dirigeants gouvernementaux pour s’attaquer, notamment, à ces problèmes de société par l’élaboration de programmes et de politiques axés sur l’équité.

« En tant que l’un des plus grands détaillants au Canada, nous avons la responsabilité de contribuer activement au bien-être et au développement des collectivités au sein desquelles nous opérons », a déclaré David Boone, PDG de Staples Canada. « Nous sommes heureux d’aider à financer les programmes de recherche révolutionnaires du MAP visant à s’attaquer aux inégalités auxquelles sont confrontées nos communautés, et d’apporter notre soutien par le biais de notre portée nationale et de notre réseau d’associés et de clients. »

Le lancement d’À chance égale aura lieu le 28 juin 2021 avec une collecte de fonds en magasin et en ligne. Pour de plus amples renseignements, consultez le

À propos de MAP

Le Centre MAP est un centre de recherche de premier plan reconnu à l’échelle mondiale qui se consacre à la création d’un avenir plus sain pour tous. Grâce à des recherches qui donnent une vision d’ensemble et à des solutions concrètes, les scientifiques du MAP s’attaquent à des problèmes de santé communautaire complexes, dont bon nombre se situent au croisement de la santé et de l’iniquité. Les 27 scientifiques et plus de 120 employés et étudiants du MAP travaillent en partenariat avec des collectivités, des chercheurs et des dirigeants gouvernementaux de partout au Canada pour s’attaquer à des problèmes comme l’itinérance, l’accès inégal aux soins de santé et aux médicaments ainsi que les effets collatéraux permanents de la pauvreté chez les enfants. Le MAP fait partie du Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute de l’Hôpital St. Michael, un établissement d’Unity Health Toronto. Pour obtenir plus de renseignements, visitez le site

À propos de Staples Canada/Bureau en Gros

Staples Canada/Bureau en Gros est l’Entreprise du travail et de l’apprentissage. En mettant l’accent sur la collectivité, l’inspiration et les services, la société privée est déterminée à jouer le rôle de partenaire dynamique et inspirant pour tous les clients qui visitent ses quelque 300 succursales et le site L’entreprise possède deux sous-marques qui soutiennent ses clients commerciaux – Bureau en Gros Privilège pour les petites entreprises et Staples Professionnel pour les moyennes et grandes entreprises – ainsi que cinq studios de travail partagé à Toronto, Kelowna, Oakville et Ottawa sous la bannière Staples Studio. Staples Canada/Bureau en Gros est fier de travailler en partenariat avec le Centre MAP dans le cadre de sa campagne À chance égale, qui vise à s’attaquer aux inégalités dans les collectivités partout au Canada et à créer un avenir équitable pour tous. Consultez pour en savoir plus ou suivez @BureauenGros sur Facebook, Twitter et Instagram.

Renseignements pour les médias

Kathleen Stelmach, Staples/Bureau en Gros, 905-737-1147, poste 578,
Noah Gomberg, Golin, 437-246-3975,

Canadian scientists to study effectiveness of COVID vaccines in people with HIV

People living with HIV often require higher doses of other vaccines


A group of B.C. and Ontario researchers are beginning a study on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines on people living with HIV.

The $2.6 million study, funded by the federal government, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and and Stop the Spread Ottawa, will recruit 400 people with HIV from clinics in Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

“There have been very limited data from clinical trials for this at-risk community,” said principal investigator Dr. Aslam Anis, national director of the CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network and director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health.

“The results of this study will provide critical and timely evidence to inform immunization guidelines and public health strategies for all of the approximately 67,000 Canadians living with HIV.”

While a small number of people with HIV who are in stable condition and otherwise health have been included in some previous COVID-19 vaccine trials, researchers don’t believe that data can be generalized to the entire population of people with the condition.

“Our COVAXHIV study focuses on older patients, those who have suppressed levels of white blood cells that fight infection (CD4 T-cells), and people with multiple medical conditions,” said co-principal investigator Dr. Cecilia Costiniuk, associate professor at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.

The first part of the study will look at how well their vaccine antibodies fight off the virus for up to a year post-immunization and responses will be compared to a 100-person control group. The second part of the study will look at vaccine effectiveness of people with HIV compared to people who do not through a population-based analysis of provincial public health records in Ontario and British Columbia.

“We will follow more than 35,000 people living with HIV in both provinces to note COVID-19 vaccine uptake and rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection and hospitalization, which will allow us to study vaccine effectiveness in this population,” said Dr. Ann Burchell, associate professor at the University of Toronto and research director at St. Michael’s Hospital’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, Unity Health Toronto.

“We will also be looking at social determinants of health such as sex, age, geography and socioeconomic status to see what effects they have, if any, on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.”