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Lowertown's new supervised injection site sees 'overwhelming' demand

Organizers at Ottawa's new supervised injection trailer are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of people coming to the site each day, and they expect those numbers will increase during the winter.

The trailer, which is run by Ottawa Inner City Health, officially opened its doors on Nov. 7. On an average day the trailer sees 122 people, but on the busiest day those numbers climbed to 139 people.  

"It's hectic, it's non-stop," said Louise Beaudoin, the trailer's nurse co-ordinator for the trailer. 

"We're always overwhelmed, but that's the nature of the beast."

Wendy Muckle, the executive director for Ottawa Inner City Health, said they didn't expect so many people to use the services.

"I think we really underestimated the number of people who had converted to injecting drugs in this neighbourhood," said Muckle.

Make supervised injection widely available: outgoing top doc

All health-care providers should be allowed to supervise drug injections given the extent of opioid abuse, according to Ottawa's outgoing medical officer of health.

As Dr. Isra Levy prepares to leave for a new job at Canadian Blood Services in January 2018, he says the opioid crisis is of such magnitude that even several supervised injection sites in the city will not be enough.

"My own belief is that every physician and every health-care provider should be enabled to be a provider of that service," said Levy on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "We know that opioids are being used throughout the community, in the suburbs and the core."

Levy was an early advocate of supervised injection sites, calling on the city to support them in spring 2016. That put him at odds with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who argued the money would be better spent on treating those with addictions, and with the city's chief of police, who expressed concerns about public safety around such sites.

OPO's Lowertown pop-up safe injection site breaks camp

The wind and rain threatened to bring down the pop-up supervised injection site slightly ahead of schedule.

The tents and canopy held up, though, until volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO) formally closed down the site at Lowertown’s Raphael Brunet Park at about 9 p.m. Thursday.

Deteriorating weather and the opening of a sanctioned trailer site nearby, behind the Shepherds of Good Hope, convinced the operators of OPO to close down after nearly 80 days of operation. OPO says it received more than 3,500 visits between Aug. 25 and Nov. 9.

Volunteers, some of whom will be moving to a sanctioned site, experienced mixed feelings on the final night, even as the rain threatened to turn to wet flurries and staff admitted exhaustion.

“Huge emotions. Huge emotions,” said site supervisor Melanie Stafford. “It’s a tremendous loss for everyone involved. OPO is transitioning because there is a need for advocacy, and for a variety of things throughout the city, but the end of this type of service delivery is a huge loss.”

Safe injection site set to open Monday at Shepherds of Good Hope

Ottawa’s first 24/7 supervised injection site will open in a Lowertown trailer Monday evening.

The trailer, operated by Shepherds of Good Hope and Ottawa Inner City Health, will include eight injection bays and a lounge area. It is expected to serve between 100 and 150 drug users a day.

It will become the third supervised injection site in the city at a time of growing concern about opioid overdoses.

Ottawa Public Health opened a small two-bay location on Clarence Street in the ByWard Market in September. In August, a group of volunteers opened an unsanctioned tent in a Lowertown park. Meanwhile, renovation work has proceeded slowly on a supervised injection site at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. It was originally supposed to have opened in October, but that date has now been pushed back.

Mayor hopes winter freezes pop-up injection site out of Lowertown

The pop-up supervised injection tent run by activist volunteers in Lowertown has saved lives, Mayor Jim Watson says, but he’s still refused an offer from the provincial government to help keep them and their clients warm.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa’s tent in Raphael Brunet Park on St. Patrick Street is modelled on ones in Vancouver, where the climate is warmer, and Toronto, where it isn’t.

Toronto’s pop-up site has been using a light tent, the kind you could buy at Costco for a couple of hundred dollars. It was fine in September, not so good in the cold and wet of deepening autumn.

Now it’s been replaced by a military-style shelter meant to be deployed as part of a field hospital after a disaster or in an epidemic. It’s a gift from the provincial government, after Mayor John Tory asked for it.

Members of the provincial government’s Emergency Medical Assistance Team, on the instructions of Health Minister Eric Hoskins, went to set it up and teach the Toronto volunteers how to work the tent and its systems themselves.

“Mayor Watson is not focused on events unfolding in Toronto,” Watson’s spokeswoman Livia Belcea said by email Friday. “(T)he mayor is focused on the funding needs of the three local agencies that are working with the province and the government of Canada to set up sanctioned supervised injection sites.”

Watson — this is new — asked federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor to hurry and approve a supervised injection service at Ottawa Inner City Health, operating out of the Shepherds of Good Hope on king Edward Avenue. In a letter he sent Thursday, he implicitly praised Overdose Prevention Ottawa’s work.

“OPO’s actions are in response to a significant rise in overdoses occurring in the neighbourhood; the site as clearly demonstrated a need for (a supervised injection site) in the area, and many lives have been saved by overdose reversals,” the mayor wrote.

That’s a major turnaround for someone who’s opposed supervised injection sites from the moment the notion arose here.

Province offering aid to unsanctioned injection site

After coming to the aid of an unsanctioned supervised injection site in a downtown Toronto park, the province is asking the City of Ottawa whether it wants similar emergency assistance here.

So far the city is showing no signs of accepting the offer.

CBC News has learned Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is offering to send a special medical team to help volunteers at Overdose Prevention Ottawa's tent site in Raphael Brunet Park as rain and plunging temperatures make their task more difficult.

On Wednesday the ministry sent its emergency medical assistance team (EMAT) to the aid of a similar pop-up site in Toronto's Moss Park, where the team provided generators, heaters and insulated tents.

The ministry said Thursday it's also had a request for help from Overdose Prevention Ottawa, and plans to approach the city for approval. But the city, which doesn't condone the tent site, has so far shown no inclination to welcome outside help.

"The City of Ottawa has made no request for EMAT in Raphael Brunet Park," Anthony Di Monte, the city's general manager of emergency and protective services, said Thursday.

Sandy Hill injection site faces further opening-date delay

As temperatures drop, the indoor supervised injection site planned for the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre didn’t open by the end of October, as hoped. 

The health centre’s Nelson Street facility has been undergoing preparatory work on the site, but it says it’s still waiting on provincial funding for renovations – and those behind the Health-Canada approved project are hesitant about setting a new target date. 

An outdoor injection tent in a Lowertown park is filling what organizers say is an urgent need in the overdose crisis. Another injection site, in a trailer at the Shepherds of Good Hope on Murray Street, could be open as soon as this weekend.

Rob Boyd, the health centre’s director of the Oasis harm reduction program, said the capital application was finalized about two weeks ago. The health centre had to get assessments on engineering and architecture before submitting the documents for provincial consideration.

Boyd, who didn’t have the capital cost estimate immediately at hand, had hoped to have the supervised injection site open by now.

Health board backs permanent status for Clarence Street injection site

Ottawa's Board of Health is recommending the temporary supervised injection site at 179 Clarence St. get a separate exemption from Health Canada so it can stay open as long as it takes to evaluate the need for a more permanent site.

Dr. Isra Levy, the city's medical officer of health, said it amounted to a technical detail in the exemption from the federal government that allowed Ottawa Public Health (OPH) to open the Clarence Street location while waiting for the permanent site at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre to open.

Levy said the current wording of the exemption would force the Clarence location to close as soon as Sandy Hill opened, despite the Board of Health's instruction to evaluate it after four months of operation.

"The original intent was that we do do that, we show up here again with recommendations based on data, based on our experience in the first four months," Levy said. " We didn't want that to be interrupted based on a technical administrative issue."

OPH told the board there were 82 clients and 359 encounters at Clarence Street in its first 26 days of operation. 

Province supports new Inner City Health supervised injection site

Ottawa’s largest permanent supervised injection site could be open in a Lowertown trailer as soon as this weekend.

The trailer, to be operated by Ottawa Inner City Health and located outside Shepherds of Good Hope on Murray Street, will be open 24/7 and serve a population of between 100 and 150 injection drug users, said Inner City Health executive director Wendy Muckle.

Ontario’s Health Minister Eric Hoskins has endorsed the site in a letter to federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, his office said Monday.

“Inner City Health has proposed to expand existing community outreach work to support those most at risk of overdose and connect people with vital health care supports, including substance use treatment and counseling,” Hoskins said in a statement.

Rideau-Vanier, he noted, has the highest geographical proportion of people who use drugs in Ottawa “by a large degree.”

Hoskins noted that 40 residents died in Ottawa in 2016 from opioid overdoses.

Front-line workers give drug users 'clean drugs' to battle spike in opioid overdoses

Workers on the front lines of Ottawa's opioid crisis say allowing drug users to consume drugs at supervised injection sites is not enough to prevent overdose deaths — so they are going one step further.

Ottawa Inner City Health began providing a small group of users with "clean" drugs in September following a rapid rise in the number of overdoses from street drugs contaminated with fentanyl over the summer.

"They're bringing in drugs that are laced with fentanyl, so the thought would be, if we're going to have supervised safe drug injection sites, why would we allow them to still inject poison?" said Dr. Jeff Turnbull, the chief physician for Ottawa Inner City Health, which provides health care to the homeless.

"Why would we not allow them to inject pharmaceutical-grade medications?"

Seven patients began receiving a combination of oral and intravenous doses of the painkiller hydromorphone, or Dilaudid, last month, and Turnbull wants to increase that to 40 users over the next month.

Turnbull said the number of overdoses in Ottawa was four cases a month in June. Now it has risen to four a day, he said.

"We've seen a dramatic change over the last three or four months," he said. "We've had many deaths. So our job right now, what we're struggling to do, is just keep people alive."

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