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Close the pop-up injection tent and you'll have blood on your hands, advocates warn

For over a year, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury has been one of city council’s most vocal backers of a supervised drug-injection site to save Ottawa drug users from overdoses. Friday, protesters crowded outside Fleury’s city hall office, calling him everything but a killer.

About 100 supporters of Overdose Prevention Ottawa and its “pop-up” tent in a Lowertown park chanted “Shame!” and demanded he “man up!” and face them.

They were — they are — angry over his wish that they take their tent down now that Ottawa’s health unit has opened its own small injection site in a city building two blocks away.

Fleury, they said, will have blood on his hands if the city makes them stop putting up their tent in Raphael Brunet Park every afternoon, as they have for the past month. And he is repulsive for saying nearby residents feel “hostage” to the unsanctioned injection site, operating on city property without approval.

They’d rallied outside city hall, shared stories of the 1,100 visitors they’ve monitored using drugs, the three overdoses they say they’ve reversed. They’d talked about the hundreds of drug users across Canada who’ve died as the continental opioid epidemic has become more lethal with the arrival of fentanyl and carfentanil — overstrength opioids tainting the supply of morphine and heroin.

“On Tuesday afternoon, the first day of the safe injection site in Ottawa, one-and-a-half hours into their service operating, there was an overdose at the Sheps (the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter) two blocks away,” Leila Attar said into a bullhorn. “To me this indicates the service, while it’s commendable, is unable to meet the needs in our city of a vulnerable population.”

Tensions boil over as OPO supporters bring protest to council office

Over 100 supporters of Overdose Prevention Ottawa packed the waiting room outside councillor's offices at city hall on Friday, hoping to meet with Coun. Mathieu Fleury.

Fleury says that the group never confirmed a meeting with his office, and that though he had invited a small group to come in to his office, The group of protesters declined.

The group called Fleury's refusal to meet with the group as particularly upseting, given that it is his constituency that is feeling much of the crisis' worst effects.

"These are all people dying in his area, and he can't even come out here when we have a meeting," said Bob Jamison. "He should be ashamed."

The group vowed to continue to press for a meeting with the councillor. "If this crisis continues, and he continues to make disgusting comments in the media, we will absolutely be back," said Leila Attar, a volunteer with OPO who herself has experienced a fentanyl overdose. "For it to be his ward, and for people to be dying—shame.

Ottawa health unit wants funds for a roving supervised injection van

Ottawa Public Health is asking city hall for money to buy a van that could operate as a mobile overdose prevention unit, beefing up the health unit’s efforts to prevent deaths and reduce the spread of disease.

The health unit wants the city to buy a 3/4-ton van for $150,000 with hopes that the province will pay for the purchase and the vehicle’s retrofit.

The van would provide “a mobile overdose prevention service that can be positioned in high risk areas,” the city says.

Inner City Health revises plans for supervised injection site

Ottawa Inner City Health is submitting an amendment to their application to house a 24-hour supervised injection site in a trailer outside the Shepherds of Good Hope facility, because their initial proposal was rendered "useless" by the increasing severity of the overdose crisis.

"The number of people who need services has just exploded," said Wendy Muckle, director of Inner City Health.

She said the initial appliction submitted to Health Canada submitted in February was designed for about 20 people, whereas the crisis has evolved to the point where they figure they will need enough resources to serve 150.

"It was for a different lifetime," said Muckle. "We don't have space inside Shepherds [of Good Hope]."

The application, which Muckle said would be submitted on Thursday or Friday, would allow them to open much sooner. They are asking for a six month exemption to operate a supervised injection site out of a trailer—which Muckle has already asked management at Shepherds of Good Hope to purchase—and said that it will give them time to develop plans to find more resources to deal with the large number of people requiring their services.

Overdose prevention groups urge health minister to declare emergency

Volunteer-run overdose prevention sites in Ottawa and Toronto are calling on Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins to declare a public health emergency over the current opioid crisis, just like the province did at the height of the SARS crisis in 2003.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa and the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society are also asking the province to enact a ministerial order to support the creation of such pop-up sites.

"An emergency declaration and ministerial order will expedite overdose prevention measures on an emergency basis," the groups said in a joint news release Thursday. "Overdose prevention sites, among other measures, are desperately needed in Ontario municipalities."

The sites — one in Ottawa's Raphael Brunet Park and one in Toronto's Moss Park — are currently illegal, but have so far been tolerated so far by their municipalities.

The Ottawa site opened Aug. 25 when harm reduction advocates pitched tents in the Lowertown park. Since then, they said they've received more than 1,100 visits.

Toronto's site, established Aug. 12, has seen more than 1,300 visits. Organizers of both sites say they've been able to intervene in multiple overdoses.

Safe injection tent stays put after city-run site opens

Organizers of a pop-up supervised injection site plan to keep their location open, despite a threat of police involvement from the area's councillor.

The pop-up site run by volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa operates in Raphael Brunet Park, two blocks away from the city's only sanctioned safe injection site at 179 Clarence St., which opened its doors for the first time Tuesday.

"We're here. We're not going anywhere," said Catherine Hacksel, an organizer with Overdose Prevention Ottawa and a volunteer at the pop-up site. Despite the close proximity of the two sites, she doesn't see them as competitors.

In fact, the pop-up site has boosted the number of volunteers to let drug users who come to their tent know about the city's site because they're likely not aware it exists, she said.

"A lot of folks who access [the tent] space are not going to be staying on top of these things right away. Why we're referring people to the service is we want to get their feedback and we want to encourage them to access new services in the community."

City leaders showing little will to move in on illegal injection tent

Ottawa's mayor, police chief and the city councillor for Rideau-Vanier all say they want the illegal supervised drug injection site operating out of tents in a Lowertown park shut down — but none of them seems to want to take responsibility for making that happen.

Now that a city-run supervised injection site is operating out of an Ottawa Public Health clinic on Clarence Street, Mayor Jim Watson wants the tent site, which is run by volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa, to fold.

"The reality is that we have a legitimate, federally approved, provincially funded, city-operated facility that is safe, that is secure, that is clean, that is run by health professionals, and it's in an appropriate location," Watson told reporters after Wednesday's council meeting.

Safe injection sites have come to Ottawa despite politicians, not because of them

At the start of 2016, it seemed doubtful Ottawa would ever get a supervised drug injection site.

Mayor Jim Watson adamantly opposed the idea. Police Chief Charles Bordeleau had never been on board, citing public safety concerns. Coun. Shad Qadri, who chairs Ottawa's board of health, was no fan either.

Now the city's on the verge of having three injection sites, maybe four.

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, Ottawa's first sanctioned consumption site will open its doors. Next month a more permanent site is set to open at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

Somerset West Community Health Centre and Ottawa Inner City Health, located at the Shepherds of Good Hope, have applied for federal exemptions to open supervised injection sites. Meanwhile Overdose Prevention Ottawa is already operating an illegal yet well-attended tent offering a similar service to drug users, and appears to have little intention of decamping.

It's a dramatic shift in public health policy that happened without — or maybe in spite of — political leadership.

Supervised injection sites offer hope, not just drugs

I can’t believe there is resistance to providing safe injection sites.

I think people have forgotten – or perhaps never considered – that addicts are people. Someone’s daughter, son, brother, sister, cousin, mother, father. Someone who once had hopes and dreams for themselves. Hopes and dreams that got lost in the morass of dependency on drugs. Someone for whom many other people had great hopes and dreams as well. Our job as citizens is to try to ensure that they live to fulfil their dreams.

Individuals who habitually use drugs are not throwaway people. They are real people caught up in the horror of addiction. All along, they have suffered accidental deaths from overdoses. But these days, drug addiction carries with it the real and present danger of dying due to an overdose of unknown quantities of the potent drug, fentanyl, laced into other drugs of choice, or even straight fentanyl.

Ottawa's first legal supervised injection site to open amid growing crisis

After years of debate and planning, Ottawa’s first legal supervised injection site prepared to open its doors on in the ByWard Market on Tuesday amid a growing opioid crisis.

Even before the interim site run by Ottawa Public Health saw its first client, though, concerns were being raised that its services would be inadequate to meet the need.

The supervised injection site, which is meant to fill the gap until a permanent site opens in Sandy Hill later this fall, was hurriedly opened by Ottawa Public Health in response to escalating numbers of overdoses in the city in recent months, in part, due to the introduction of fentanyl into the drug supply.

The interim site is also a response to a pop-up site opened — without legal exemption — in August in a Lowertown park. That site, run by the volunteer group Overdose Prevention Ottawa, has had more than 1,000 visits since it opened on Aug. 25.

In a statement Monday, OPO called the Clarence Street site “a step in the right direction” but said it would continue to offer services at 307 Patrick St. from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“In the midst of (Tuesday)’s opening of Ottawa Public Health’s interim Clarence Street supervised injection site, and after taking lengthy consideration of what our guests have told us, it is clear that our work is not over.”

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