Safe injection proponents show off mock site in Ottawa

The model version of a supervised drug injection site proposed for Ottawa's Lowertown neighbourhood was open to the public Monday.

Organizers wanted to use the opportunity to address community concerns and answer questions to win support.

More than 100 people crammed into a small building at 216 Murray St. Monday morning for a tour of the mock site.

The building currently houses counselling services and needle disposal for drug addicts.

Dr. Mark Tyndall oversees infectious diseases at The Ottawa Hospital. He studied Vancouver's supervised injection program, called Insite, for years.

Ottawa has some of the highest rates of HIV infection and drug overdoses in the country, said Tyndall.. He said he hopes the mock site will reduce some fear and stigma about injection sites.

"The whole idea is to create a dialogue," he said. "If people really didn't believe this could be a helpful intervention for their community, then it's up to us to explain ourselves better."

Inside, people participated in a information session, then had access to small, quiet cubicles with stainless steel desks. The mock kits included a syringe, sterile water, a cooker and a plastic band to tie around the arm.

Former addict Rick Sproule acted as a tour guide. He told CBC News he understands the concern over the proposed site, but that maintaining the status quo won't fix the real problem.

"People are down here using on the street anyway," he said. "They are contracting HIV and hepatitis C because of the way they are using. What it does change, is the fact that when they are here, they are safe."

Other people came out to speak against the program.

Pierre St. Jean has lived on Clarence Street in Lowertown for two decades.

He said he doesn't think it will help drug addicts, and that it will simply enable them and increase the amount of trafficking.

"If I was a member of the drug dealers association, I would be thanking these guys," St Jean said. "Maybe three times a week I look out my window, there's either a drug deal going on or someone smoking crack. And that's going to shoot right up if this happens."

Organizers of the proposed site still need Health Canada approval.

Both Ottawa’s mayor Jim Watson and police chief Charles Bordeleau have come out against a safe injection site in the city.

Bordeleau has said he has concerns about public safety around the sites, while Watson said the city would rather focus on treatment programs for addicts.

Source: CBC News