Plan for supervised injection site applauded by Ottawa users

A plan to open a supervised injection site for hard drug users in Ottawa is being applauded by some who say the facility would cut down on the city’s high HIV infection rate.

“People will start learning how to use clean needles. There will be less overdoses and many are infected with HIV,” said Crystal O’Hara, who started injecting morphine three years ago and but is now on methadone.

O’Hara said that she sometimes smokes crack and recently nodded off while using and woke to find she left her stove burner on with a radio nearby.

“The front part was melted,” she said of the radio. “I was lucky that I didn’t suffocate because of the toxic chemicals. That wouldn’t have happened at a supervised site.”

Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is working on an application for exemption from federal drug laws under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, said Rob Boyd, director of the Oasis program at the centre. He hopes to present it to the city’s board of health in the fall.

“We certainly have a big enough problem for it,” he said.

HIV rates among users who inject drugs in the city remain ahead of Toronto, Boyd said. Ottawa’s infection rates among users are 2.5 times higher than in Toronto.

“We have been able to get HIV infection down to about 15 per cent from 20 per cent when I started here ten years ago,” he said of Ottawa’s 1,200 to 3,000 users.

Ottawa Public Health’s own numbers from 2011 put HIV cases reported among injection or inhalation drug users in Ottawa at 13 per cent, a two-fold decrease from 25 per cent in 2007. An OPH spokesperson said that this is evidence that current initiatives are working and should be the focus of the community’s efforts since they represent common ground.

Yet OPH numbers also show that in 2012, 50 per cent of users infected with HIV and 73.6 per cent with Hepatitis C reported to OPH that they shared drug equipment.

“I think there’s a lot of attention on safe injection sites,” said Dr. Vera Etches, OPH’s associate medical officer of health. “That’s only one type of service to support people using drugs. We’d like to focus on common ground such as more housing and mental health services. It’s going to take a lot of evidence and discussion at the provincial and federal level to open a SIS.”

By Graham Lanktree
Source: Metro Ottawa