The Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa was formed in response to an ongoing health crisis.
Ottawa has Ontario’s highest rate of new HIV infection among injection drug users. 11% of people who inject drugs in Ottawa are infected with HIV, while 70% have contracted hepatitis C. Someone dies of drug overdose every 8 days in our city — deaths that could be prevented with timely medical intervention.
Supervised consumption sites are public health facilities that offer a safe, hygienic place where people can use their own drugs under medical supervision.
Canada’s first supervised injection site, Insite, has been operating since 2003 in downtown Vancouver. The evidence from Insite – and from over 90 such sites around the world – proves that supervised consumption sites reduce the spread of diseases such as HIV, prevent overdose deaths, and improve access to addiction treatment programs. They have also been shown to encourage cleaner, safer streets by reducing public drug use and drug equipment litter.
Opening supervised drug consumption sites in Ottawa would:
Reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis-C by providing sterile equipment and safe disposal for used needles
Prevent deaths caused by overdose
Decrease public drug use and drug-equipment litter
Provide access to health and social services, such as first aid treatment and addiction recovery programs
Sign the petition to show your support for supervised drug consumption services in Ottawa.
Get involved for community health and safety by joining in at our next organizers meeting:
Thursday October 27, 5:30pm at the AIDS Committee of Ottawa accessible meeting space, 19 Main St. (map)
CSCS is a grassroots group of community members who are passionate about creating a healthier Ottawa. If you're interested in getting involved with our campaign to bring supervised injection to Ottawa, please join in!
Before then, the Ottawa woman had been an off-and-on user since her fiancé’s accidental death in 1999. “I was in pain and I wanted to not be in pain. That’s how I started my journey with fentanyl,” she said.
She had been prescribed other opioids in the past, but very quickly turned to fentanyl, drawn to its potency.
“The fentanyl was everywhere and it was cheap at that time,” she said. “There were people getting prescriptions who didn’t quite know the street value of this drug. So I was able to obtain like 100 microgram patches for like $5. It was crazy. It was just crazy.”
If used as prescribed, one transdermal patch might last a patient 72 hours. Finnessy was using about one a day, she said, chewing it or extracting the drug and injecting it for a faster high.
Now she’s on methadone therapy and helping in outreach programs for other drug users. And from them, she’s hearing even more about fentanyl now than before – particularly the new form that’s causing so many deaths in Western Canada: powdered fentanyl.
Powdered fentanyl is a relatively new arrival to the nation’s capital, and it has local health authorities and outreach workers worried.
Thirteen years ago, Ottawa had 100 emergency room visits from unintentional drug overdoses. In 2015 it was 205 — something Ottawa Public Health attributes partly to fentanyl.
Ottawa Public Health is talking with more than 20 agencies that distribute clean needles to injection-drug users, including community health clinics, drop-in programs and shelters. They’ve all been identified as potential operators of supervised injection sites for Ottawa — where political necessity demands sites be run by outside agencies, not the health unit itself.
This consensus came about slowly, after years of opposition to the idea of supervised injection sites operating in Ottawa at all. Since Vancouver’s Insite opened in 2003, three Ottawa mayors have rejected the idea of bringing this harm-reduction model to the capital, all backed up by their respective police chiefs. A 2015 academic study, led by Ahmed Bayoumi at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, found Ottawa could prevent 360 HIV infections over 20 years with a single supervised injection site based on the Vancouver model. But it attracted no real political support.
With supervised injection sites on the horizon and an increased number of overdoes in the mix, Ottawa should aim to have two or three supervised injection sites in locations most likely to be used by drug users, said Ahmed M. Bayoumi, a researcher and physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
Bayoumi, with a number of other researchers, helped conduct a recent study on the cost-effectiveness of supervised injection sites in both Toronto and Ottawa. They found that the optimal number for Ottawa was two.
But, with overdoses on the rise in Ottawa, Bayoumi said the study might have underestimated that number.
While one supervised injection site would be cost-effective for the city, Bayoumi said, it wouldn’t provide the maximum health benefits to drug users themselves.
Rob Boyd, Oasis program director at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, says a larger number of smaller sites would be more beneficial.
“We’ve been living with a serious opiate use epidemic, for the past 20 years, but the stakes have been raised by the powered bootleg Fentanyl,” said Boyd, who is a front-line worker with drug users.
The number of calls to paramedics for overdoses in the city has more than doubled since 2012, and one drug, fentanyl, is the main suspect behind the surge.
And things might get even worse.
“I definitely think it is a crisis here,” says Rob Boyd, director of the Oasis clinic at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre and a leader in the harm reduction field in Ottawa.
“I said going into the summer that I had a bad feeling about it. I really try hard not to be alarmist when it comes to this stuff, but I think powdered fentanyl is a real game-changer.”
The worrisome thing about fentanyl, first widely used in patch-form as a painkiller, is its potency. Described as 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin, only a few grains can cause an overdose, sometimes fatal.
In some jurisdictions, police officers have overdosed just by handling the powder, among the shocking stories popping up all over North America.
Just last week, nine young people in a Vancouver suburb overdosed almost simultaneously after sharing cocaine that was spiked with fentanyl, with eight of them ending up in hospital.
The problem today is that fentanyl is widely available in powder form and is being mixed — in uncertain dosages — with all kinds of street drugs.
“From one dose to the next, you don’t know what the concentration is,” said Boyd.
Added Catherine Hacksel, a member of the addictions support group, DUAL, and the co-ordinator of a weekly drop-in program:
“With fentanyl, you can buy enough to kill you in a dime bag.”
An unscientific survey by Ottawa’s public-health unit over the summer found two-thirds of us support new supervised drug-injection facilities aimed at helping addicts survive overdoses.
The survey, an online questionnaire, was a consultation meant to gauge the public’s attitude toward such sites, which Ottawa Public Health thinks would work best added to existing community health centres and other agencies that operate needle exchanges and methadone clinics. Anybody could go to the health unit’s website and fill the survey out — so it’s more like an Internet version of a public meeting than a poll.
According to the health unit, more than one-quarter of the participants identified themselves as either health practitioners or people who work at agencies that help drug users. They also gave out paper copies to people at existing drug clinics; five per cent of respondents said they’re current or former users of harm-reduction services. The result is what the health unit calls a “a convenience sample,” people who were easy to reach.
Nevertheless, 66 per cent of the 2,263 people who took part said they believe supervised injection sites would be beneficial in Ottawa, against 27 per cent who oppose the idea. The most support came from the wards where injection sites would be likeliest to open — Somerset, Rideau-Vanier, Capital, River and Kitchissippi, where support ranged from 77 to 90 per cent.
International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event held on August 31st each year to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. Join us at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin at 11:30 for the Ottawa event.
Support for a safe injection site in Ottawa is growing, particularly among younger people, a new poll shows.
The Forum Research poll shows 58 per cent of those surveyed on July 22 said they approved of a safe injection site for intravenous drug users in downtown Ottawa, up four percentage points from when the same question was asked in May.
Support was highest among those aged 18-34 (58 per cent), those with postgraduate degrees (68 per cent), and those who lived with marijuana dispensaries in their neighbourhoods (67 per cent).