How Some Toronto Clubs And Bars Are Fighting The Opioid Crisis

By Paul Gaita 10/04/17

"Any possible way to avoid someone seriously OD-ing and dying, I think it's the responsibility of everybody who manages and runs these spaces to do it."

a group of people dancing inside of a club

In an attempt to contend with the opioid crisis in their province, a number of music venues and bars in Toronto, Canada have decided to make naloxone kits available to their patrons and staff.

Though the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association does not require establishments to carry the opioid overdose reversal medication, several owners have purchased kits, citing the possibility of saving a life as a factor in their decision. Their actions were applauded by Toronto Public Health, which voiced via statement its support for access to naloxone for all residents, though some club owners have noted that the kits remain difficult to find in the province.

Coverage in CTV News and other outlets noted that Norm Maschke, assistant manager of the music club Lee's Palace, was among the first this year to purchase a naloxone kit for his establishment. "It would be in our best interest to make sure that if someone does end up in a compromising position, that we can at least help them as best as we can," said Maschke. "To not do it is negligent."

Since then, management at other bars and clubs across the city have acquired their own kits, including Carmen Elle, who recently opened the Less Bar in west-end Toronto.

Elle, who purchased a kit shortly after the bar opened, said that it was of paramount importance that she has one for her patrons. "Any possible way to avoid someone seriously OD-ing and dying, I think it's the responsibility of everybody who manages and runs these spaces to do it," she said. "Why wouldn't we all just do that? It's so easy."

While Elle noted that the decision to have naloxone at her bar was a simple one, acquiring the actual kit was another issue. Though it can be purchased without a prescription at pharmacies throughout Canada, and the city of Toronto has increased the number of kits made available to the public since they were introduced in July 2016—pharmacies handed out nearly 1,400 kits between January and March 2017—Elle said that it took visits to several pharmacies before she found one with the kits in stock. "It's available, but it doesn't seem to be in great enough supply that you can just go into any [pharmacy] and grab one," she explained.

Toronto's bar and club owners may have set a precedent that other provinces could soon follow. CTV News reported that the bar owners association in Quebec is considering a policy decision on naloxone that may be reached in the weeks to come. British Columbia's Alliance of Beverage Licensees did not respond to CTV's request for comment. The opioid-related death rate across the entire country of Canada continues to climb, with public health officials expecting to pass 3,000 deaths this year, up from 2016 statistics, which found that more than 2,800 residents had succumbed to the crisis.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.