Group advocates for safer injection sites in Ottawa

She was a nurse who got hooked on prescription painkillers after a serious car crash, and when she lost the services of her doctor, turned to the streets to feed her addiction.

"That's how I found out about Ottawa's underground," she said, sharing her story (though not her name) for the first time at Wednesday's symposium on supervised injection sites (SIS), hosted at the University of Ottawa.

"If there would have been something like (Vancouver's supervised injection site) Insite at that time, maybe I would have gotten out sooner."

Instead, seven years of her life spiraled out of control, her nursing career crushed under the weight of the criminal record now shadowing her.

Her story was one of many shared by panelists at the community discussion, launched by the Campaign for Safe Consumption Sites in Ottawa on the fourth anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court ruling that advocates cite as proof of Insite's "positive impact on the surrounding community and (as) a cost-saving measure."

Along with speakers from Nurses for SIS and the Drug Users Advocacy League (DUAL), organizers shared findings of a study conducted by Participatory Research in Ottawa Understanding Drugs (PROUD), which surveyed 858 Ottawa drug users.

"People say we aren't Vancouver, and they're right, but we do share the need for safe injection sites," said Rick S. of DUAL, citing the recent increase in use of fentanyl -- often with a tragic outcome -- as evidence of the need for supervised injection sites.

"People are dropping dead from this stuff," he said. "And the first thing we need to do is to keep these people alive and safe. And you can't rope them in, you have to let them come to you."

There wasn't much dissent at Wednesday's event, though organizer and advocate Catherine Hacksel said she invited opponents to have their say as well.

"Don't be shy to talk to us," she said. "Once you talk to people about the issue and destygmatize it, folks are much more willing to open their minds."

And while Hacksel said she's worked hard to engage all community partners, she still finds herself "at arm's length" from an important potential partner in the Ottawa police.

"Given that we're so often working with the same people, it would be great to work together," she said.

Police Chief Charles Bordeleau and Mayor Jim Watson have both previously voiced their opposition to a supervised injection site in Ottawa.

By Aedan Helmer
Source: Ottawa Sun