Majority of Ottawa residents in favour of safe injection site

A new poll suggests most Ottawa residents are in favour of a safe injection site, even though the seriousness of the opioid crisis has yet to register with many of them.

The Mainstreet Research poll, conducted for Postmedia, found that 53 per cent of those surveyed support the plan to open a safe injection site in Ottawa.

The pollsters found that 32 per cent of respondents disapproved of the idea; 15 per cent offered no opinion.

Officials from the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre have submitted a proposal to the federal government and hope to open a facility this spring that would allow clients to take drugs under medical supervision.

“Ottawans generally approve of seeing safe injection sites in their city as a tool for harm reduction,” said Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Research.

The polling firm surveyed people from 10 Canadian cities on the same question. Only those in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver supported the move to open safe injection sites in their cities.

The highest approval level was recorded in Vancouver (68 per cent), home to North America’s first safe injection site. Vancouver is now in the grips of a fentanyl crisis that has led to dramatic rise in the number of overdose deaths.

The Mainstreet poll found that the opioid crisis is poorly understood in Ottawa. Only 30 per cent of respondents said they have been following news about the impact of fentanyl, a powerful narcotic now widely available on the illicit drug market.

What’s more, almost half of those polled (49 per cent) in Ottawa said they thought today’s recreational drugs were no more dangerous than they were three years ago. Another 14 per cent of respondents said today’s drugs were safer; 12 per cent admitted to being unsure about it.

In 2015, fentanyl overdoses killed 418 people in B.C. and Alberta alone. In Ontario, 162 drug overdose deaths were tied to fentanyl, an opioid that comes in both prescription and bootleg form.

Prescription fentanyl — it’s used to treat the severe pain of surgery and cancer — has been available on Ottawa streets for years in the form of patches and tablets. It can be lethal if abused, but it is the bootleg variety that has public health officials across alarmed.

The fentanyl made in clandestine labs is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin, another white powder. Powdered fentanyl looks like heroin and is often mixed with the drug — or sold as oxycodone to unsuspecting buyers — because it’s cheaper and easier to manufacture. But even small doses of fentanyl can shut down a person’s breathing.

To complete its poll, Mainstreet surveyed 599 Ottawa residents using interactive voice response telephone technology during the first week of January. In theory, in 19 cases out of 20, the poll results would not differ by more than 4.0 percentage points from results obtained by interviewing every adult in the city.

By Andrew Duffy
Source: Ottawa Citizen