Thank you for supporting safer consumption sites in Ottawa

Since 2011, the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa has advocated for safer, healthier services for people who use drugs in our community. Over the years, we've had the pleasure to engage with so many of you at events we've hosted and participated in, as well as through our website and social media. The response to our campaign has been overwhelmingly supportive – from the thousands of signatures on our paper and online petitions, to the hundreds of emails sent to the mayor, city councillors, and health ministers.

The actions we've taken together have helped pave the way for the establishment of multiple supervised injection services in Ottawa. Your show of support has demonstrated to politicians and policy makers that when it comes to public health, the vast majority of people in our city believe in harm reduction and evidence-based policies.

Thank you for joining us in our campaign, and continuing to stand up for the dignity and well-being of people who use drugs. Together we can build healthier and safer communities for everyone.

City's first permanent supervised injection site opens at Sandy Hill Community Health Centre

The room is spotless, the tabletops gleaming of polished stainless steel that matches the sleek, stylish desk lamp. At each of the five booths, a round cosmetics mirror is affixed to an adjustable arm.

“We wanted these mirrors here in case people wanted to do some neck injections,” says Rob Boyd, director of harm reduction at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, site of Ottawa’s first permanent supervised injection site.

“We don’t encourage people to do that — it’s a very dangerous place to inject. You slip up and you could be paralyzed. But we’re not going to turn people away from here because of it. If it’s going to happen, it’s better that it happens here.”

Seven years after it began lobbying for a supervised injections site in Ottawa, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre accepted its first clients on Monday, hours after getting the official go-ahead from Health Canada. The site was to have opened last October, but delays in getting final approval and provincial funding for renovations pushed the opening back six months.

“I don’t feel like celebrating — that’s the wrong mood — because we are seeing an escalation in overdoses and escalation in overdose deaths,” Boyd said. “Relieved is the word. We just need to get in there and do our part.”

The harm reduction model of drug addiction treatment

"We know that if recovery is ever going to happen, we have to keep people alive". When it comes to combatting drug use, Mark Tyndall believes sanctions aren't enough, and that they sometimes hurt more than they help. As Executive Medical Director for the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, Mark has come to see the importance of providing drug users with all different types of support.

From supervised injection sites to methadone clinics, Mark has been an early adopter and leader of various harm reduction efforts in Vancouver, BC. Tune in to his 2017 TEDMED Talk to learn more about how these models have not only saved lives, but have also become the first step to recovery for many suffering from drug addiction.

Opioid overdoses on decline in Ottawa

Six months after a spike in opioid overdoses raised alarms across the city, the numbers are down. But Ottawa Public Health says it is too soon to claim any victories in the opioid crisis.

According to preliminary public health statistics, drug-related emergency room visits have dipped from more than 40 a week in September to closer to 25 a week in late January. Monthly opioid overdose emergency room visits have steadily declined since last summer.

OPH and service agencies rallied last summer after rising rates of overdoses and deaths related to opioid use in the city and the introduction of fentanyl into the drug supply.

In late summer, a group called Overdose Prevention Ottawa set up a pop-up supervised injection site in a tent located in a Lowertown park in response to the opioid crisis.

OPH subsequently opened a small, supervised injection site in offices in the ByWard Market. The Shepherds of Good Hope set up another approved supervised injection site in a trailer next to its shelter on King Edward Avenue.

RNAO releases best practices guideline on implementing supervised injection services

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario has just published its Best Practice Guideline on Implementing Supervised Injection Services. We're very proud to have contributed as stakeholders in the development of this guide, along with many other nurses, harm reduction professionals, and advocates.

"These approaches promote engagement, support positive health outcomes, and help reduce harms associated with injection drug use."

Ottawa Public Health looks to expand Clarence Street injection site

An Ottawa Public Health staff report is recommending that the Clarence Street supervised injection site be made permanent and turned into a supervised consumption centre, where people would be able to ingest drugs in ways that aren't just intravenous. 

The Lowertown site opened in September 2017 after authorization from Health Canada. Between the day it opened and Jan. 22, 2018, 174 people made use of the site, with the total number of visits sitting at 2,714, according to the report, which was tabled Monday in advance of the Ottawa Board of Health's next meeting on Monday, Feb. 5.

Eighty-five per cent of clients used services such as counselling and health education, according to the report. Medical intervention was only required in 19 cases — 0.7 per cent of the total visits.

Feedback from clients and staff at the site has been overwhelmingly positive, said Andrew Hendriks, director of health protection at OPH. 

"What we heard from clients was that the service makes a difference for them," Hendriks said. "A large number of people say they're less likely to inject in public [and] they're less likely to inject alone because of the services that we're providing." 

High demand for naloxone training at Centretown session

It took three rooms to accommodate nearly 60 people who attended a free naloxone training session in Centretown organized by a community health organization for gay men.

Max Ottawa, which focuses on holistic health programs for men who have sex with men, had been anticipating a small session of about 20 people, but said the response was overwhelming.

"There's a concern we have that [opioid overdoses] can happen to anyone in our network: our friends, ourselves, our sex partners," said executive director Roberto Ortiz.

"This is the responsibility of all of us to take care of each other. So we're super happy to know that there are so many people that want to be ready in case something happens."

Participation was not limited to gay men and included a broad range of people. Each took home a naloxone kit at the end of the training session, where they were shown how to use the syringe and nasal spray.

Activists say death following presumed overdose at health centre highlights need for more supervised sites

A young woman collapsed in a bathroom at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre earlier this week and died in hospital from what’s presumed to be a drug overdose.

The death happened Monday as the health centre continued its years-long wait to open a supervised injection site.

“We know that had this overdose happened in a supervised environment, they would have survived,” said Rob Boyd, director of the health centre’s harm reduction program.

The woman, who has not been identified, collapsed around 3 p.m. Monday in the centre’s public bathroom. As soon as she was discovered, she was given the overdose antidote, Naloxone, and administered oxygen by medical staff.

Here's why it's time to legalize all drugs in Canada

Picture this: You’re an injection drug user, and, you’re worried the next time you use, you might die. So, you head for the Shepherds of Good Hope, where there’s a special trailer. There, you can use your drugs – and someone will save you if you overdose.

Upon arrival, though, there’s a police cruiser outside. Apparently it’s there a lot, at least according to Ottawa Inner City Health, which runs the injection site, and officers are questioning staff and clients.

And so you turn around. You take your chances injecting elsewhere, to avoid being harassed by police. Maybe you’ll overdose and there will be nobody to save you. So it goes.

With between 130 and 170 people actually using the injection trailer daily, it’s got to be asked: How many are not showing up because they’re afraid of the police?

Since Ottawa’s mayor and police chief had both been openly hostile toward the idea before recently softening their views, it’s no surprise those tasked with enforcing the laws may not have, after years of hearing one thing, quite come ’round to the virtues of addicts having a safe environment in which to inject their drugs. (On Tuesday, the chief disputed this characterization of his position in a statement to the Citizen.)

And yet, this situation is a dangerous one. If injection sites are providing lifesaving medical care — and they are — then anything that keeps people away risks indirectly causing death. 

This isn’t actually complicated. It’s worrisome if local cops can’t follow along. 

And so, a solution: It’s time that drugs — all drugs — are decriminalized, then legalized and sold like alcohol or tobacco or (soon) marijuana. Decriminalization would remove criminal penalties for drug use — legalization would allow regulated use and sale. 

Ottawa supervised injection trailer squeezed by extreme cold and fire damage

The supervised injection service that operates in a trailer next to the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter is struggling to meet client demand due to the extreme cold and a loss of space because of recent fire damage at the shelter.

The 40-foot construction trailer with fogged up windows and a narrow entrance is the only supervised injection site in Ottawa that operates overnight.

It has far exceeded the expected flow of 50 clients a day, according to Anne Marie Hopkins, supervisor of the peer outreach program at Ottawa Inner City Health, which operates the supervised-injection service.

"With three staff working and even with a handful of clients, it's tight in there," Hopkins said. "We're putting through 150 [to] 170 people a day in that small trailer so we have to move people along, but it's really hard when it's so cold out. They're freezing."

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