Harm reduction advocates urge Ottawa Public Health to take action

Toronto Public Health has recently come forward calling for a supervised injection site in their city, as well as publicly speaking out against Bill C-65. Bill C-65 is the proposed legislation putting further barriers towards opening more sites across Canada. Toronto Public Health clearly sees that their community is suffering due to inadequate service for their population of people who use drugs.

Ottawa Public Health has long been an advocate for community health. OPH describes its role as advocating for “public policies that make our city and its residents healthier”, however their voice has been notably absent in the recent discussion of the health of people that use drugs. Ottawa needs OPH to be at the forefront of the push for safer consumption sites.

The need for services for people who use drugs in Ottawa is strong. As reported by the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres of Ottawa, 3000 to 5000 people currently use the Needle and Syringe or Safer Crack Use programs. In 2010, Ottawa Paramedics responded to 1,277 calls for drug overdose of which 36 people were reported to have died. Due to stigma around drug use, overdose death is most probably grossly under-reported. As a community we are facing tremendous loss and we will continue to lose members of our community until drastic change is implemented.

According to the 2012 Drummond Report, Ontario spent $5.2 billion on mental health and addictions due to costs of hospitalizations, community mental health and substance abuse programs, law enforcement, supportive housing, fire losses and capital costs. We are repeatedly hearing the call for preventative health care, and safer consumption sites offer just that. Safer consumption sites have been shown to reduce the spread of blood borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C by providing new equipment and as well as reducing drug equipment litter. This in addition to preventing deaths and offering an invaluable point to access health and social services such as first aid treatment and addictions counselling.

The push for safer consumption sites in Ottawa has been gathering in momentum. As a result of the observed need and strong community support, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre plans to submit an application for an exemption from federal drug laws in order to open a supervised consumption site.

Ottawa Public Health monitors infections that are caused by factors such as a lack of health infrastructure. They tracked the cases of 360 people infected with HIV in the city from 2008 to 2012, and a staggering 1279 people infected with Hepatitis C. They helped found needle exchange programs in Ottawa starting in 1991. We now call on OPH to go beyond tracking and treating after the fact, and to make a pre-emptive move towards a safer community.

Safer consumption sites are better for the individuals whom they serve, and better for Ontario at large. We can’t afford the cost of the current system, and most importantly, we can’t afford the cost of human life and suffering. It is time for Ottawa Public Health to speak out.