Safe-injection plan will proceed with or without city support, health-centre executive says

Officials at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre intend to pursue their plan to open a safe-injection service in downtown Ottawa even if the proposal is ultimately rejected by city council.

“We are very open to continuing the dialogue locally with city council or the board of health, but if local officials can’t or won’t provide letters of support for us, we just have to accept that and move on,” health centre executive Rob Boyd told reporters Monday.

Boyd made his comments as the centre launched a month-long series of public consultations on its proposal for a safe-injection site. It wants to add an injection service — with room for up to six drug users — to its existing cluster of medical and social services for people at high risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis C.

The facility must receive a federal exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to operate. As part of the application process, it must submit letters from the mayor, the police chief and the medical officer of health, among others.

Both Mayor Jim Watson and police Chief Charles Bordeleau have voiced their opposition to the idea.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre has applied for a research grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which could finance the service’s initial operation. Ongoing funding — estimated at $250,000 to $300,000 a year — would have to come from the province.

The provincial government has not committed to funding a site in Ottawa. Three years ago, the Ontario government rejected the idea of a safe-injection service in Toronto, but Health Minister Eric Hoskins recently vowed that new proposals will be considered in light of changes on the federal scene.

The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has endorsed harm reduction, and earlier this year it approved Canada’s second safe-injection site in Vancouver. 

Boyd said the service is desperately needed in Ottawa: “This is almost like an emergency department type of thing for people who inject drugs. It’s really trying to address the most egregious parts of injection drug use: public injecting, overdose, HIV and hepatitis C.”

The idea, he said, is to provide people with a hygienic place to inject their drugs and connect them to all of the other services available at the health-care centre.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre already offers a needle exchange program, counselling, and medical and social services to about 700 injection drug users in downtown Ottawa.

Watson and the city’s medical officer of health, Dr. Isra Levy, were unavailable for comment Monday.

By Andrew Duffy
Source: Ottawa Citizen