Pop-up injection site breaks law for a good cause

The push for legal harm reduction requires breaking the law.

That was the chatter Friday down at the pop-up safe-injection site in Lowertown.

And it’s true.

With the big black tent in the background of Raphael Brunet Park, volunteers prepared for what they expected to be a busy evening. Boxes of fruit snacks and flats of Costco water sat nearby. Some people moseyed through, grabbing a doughnut and cup of coffee and asking what was going on.

Things that are illegal don’t tend to become legal until people realize the consequences aren’t as grave as they fear. More to the point, perhaps, with something like harm reduction and drug use, things don’t tend to become legal until everyone realizes that it was criminality in the first place that made an activity dangerous.

Take overdoses. They’re pretty manageable, in the scheme of things, if you overdose somewhere you can get help.

This is less the case when someone’s shooting up alone in an apartment because they’re embarrassed to do so with friends or don’t want to get caught by the cops.

But with support workers nearby, and a supply of naloxone — which helps arrest an opioid overdose — using drugs becomes a lot less dangerous. That’s the whole logic behind giving out naloxone, free of charge, at pharmacies around town. With more and more powerful drugs, such as fentanyl, on the market, keeping people alive requires some pretty bold solutions.

After all — and it’s by now become a devastating cliché — you can’t help people who are dead.

This particular solution is not necessarily palatable, mind you, to the folks staring out of their condos from across the street, but, to be honest, “tough luck” is the only real response.

Lives are worth more than your queasiness.

Pop-up drug use site set up in Raphael Brunet Park

Overdose Prevention Ottawa is continuing to operate a supervised drug-use tent at Raphael Brunet Park in Lowertown, despite receiving a complaint that it's breaching city bylaws.

The group says it's setting up the tent across from 310 St. Patrick St. for people to use drugs under supervision so they can better access healthcare.

The unsanctioned "overdose prevention site" follows the lead of similar initiatives in Toronto and Vancouver.

The group, made up of people with experience caring for and supporting drug users, said public health officials recommend not using drugs alone in case of an overdose — especially with very powerful opioids being discretely added to some illicit drugs — so they're offering a supervised space.

Supervised injection site organizers take action

Harm reduction workers and volunteers from Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO) announced more information about the pop-up supervised injection site that will be opening in Ottawa on Friday.

Though they did not disclose the location, volunteers said that they will be setting up a tent with some basic injection supplies—syringes, gloves, naloxone and other first aid kits—and three trained volunteers on hand to respond in the case of an overdose.

“These sites work, they work extremely well,” said OPO volunteer Marilou Gagnon. “There’s 24 in BC, there’s one in Toronto. They work exceptionally well; very low cost, low barriers, and they save lives.”

OPO, along with the Canadian Association for People Who Use Drugs, urged Minister Philpott to declare an official state of emergency—something that would free up extra government resources—and to grant immediate exemptions to all sites who have applied.

“We just can’t justify letting people die because of bureaucracy,” she said. “We wouldn’t let that happen for any other population with a health care need. It wouldn’t be acceptable, so I don’t understand why it would be acceptable for people who use drugs to just tell them to wait and continue to die while we arrange our paperwork.”

Opioid emergency prompts push for unapproved injection site

Drug users are dying while politicians fill out forms and wait for approvals for supervised injection sites, says a group promising to open a guerrilla injection tent of its own somewhere in Ottawa Friday.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa, which has only existed for a matter of days, is taking the delicate political compromises that have let harm-reduction efforts lurch forward here and kicking them aside. Because waiting is costing lives, the group says.

The group has cautious support from Ottawa Public Health, which is resisting political pressure to shut its plans down.

Supervised injection sites are meant to be places where drug addicts can inject chemicals like heroin and have health workers available to react immediately if they overdose. Overdose Prevention Ottawa is pushing against a boulder that’s already moving a little: After years of opposition from the federal Conservatives when they were in government, the Liberals have approved several across Canada. One is due to be added to the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre soon but isn’t open yet.

“We force people to use alone. They don’t have a safe space in Ottawa,” said Marilou Gagnon, a nursing professor at the University of Ottawa and vocal advocate for the idea that drug users benefit more from safe drug supplies and access to nonjudgmental health workers than from prohibitions on their drugs.

Ripple effect

Harm reduction and healthcare workers in Ottawa are planning to open the city’s first unsanctioned overdose prevention pop-up site on Friday, VICE News has learned.

Volunteers with the newly formed Overdose Prevention Ottawa got together last week to discuss the effort, and have purchased a tent to set up at a location that’s yet to be decided.

The site follows the lead of a similar unsanctioned site opened by volunteers in Toronto earlier this month, and a number of unsanctioned sites that have been operating for months in British Columbia as a way around the intense federal application processes required to open a legal supervised injection site.

“It is definitely a strong signal being in the national capital,” Marilou Gagnon, a nurse and associate professor at the University of Ottawa who’s leading the overdose prevention site effort, said in an interview. “It’s a grassroots initiative that is about people coming together and trying to address a crisis. So the idea is to act quickly, with very low costs and simple means.”

“We will not wait and just stand by.”

Pop-up supervised injection site is coming to Ottawa

Ottawa’s first pop-up supervised injection site will be opening on Friday.

The group Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO) will be making the announcement on Thursday morning, but will not be disclosing its location ahead of operations, which are scheduled to begin on Friday.

“We’re going to do exactly what Toronto did and not disclose our location until we set it up,” said Marilou Gagnon, associate professor at the University of Ottawa School of Nursing and volunteer with OPO.

The move is a bold step in the fight against the mounting overdose crisis in Ontario. “The need is there, and if people don’t believe us when we say that, we’ll be able to prove it,” said Gagnon.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre recently received approval from Health Canada to open its site, but they are still in the process of renovating their facilities to meet the ministry’s standards.

Critics say the process is still too slow.

“If the government won’t remove politics from their public health approach, then we’ll remove it for them,” said Jordan Westfall, president of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, in an email.

Managed opioid program to open in response to fentanyl crisis

As a fentanyl crisis sweeps the country, medical officials in Ottawa are moving quickly and quietly to open a supervised injection site for opioid users.

The opioid substitution program, which will be the only the second of its kind in Canada, is expected to formally begin in September at the Shepherds of Good Hope in the ByWard Market area.

While attention in this city has been focused on a recently approved supervised-injection site for illegal drug users, officials with Inner City Health have been planning the managed opioid program, which will open first.

It will be somewhat similar to the supervised injection site to be run out of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, where injection drug users inject their own illegal drugs under supervision in a sterile location. Under the managed opioid program, however, participants will be prescribed hydromorphone, provided by Inner City Health, which they will either inject or take orally several times a day under supervision.

Because the drugs involved are legal when prescribed, the program does not require a special exemption, as supervised-injection sites for illegal drugs do. But Inner City Health has contacted both the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and the Ontario College of Nurses about the plan and for support.

Inner City Health, which provides health care to Ottawa’s homeless, has been thinking about introducing the program for some time, said executive director Wendy Muckle, but the fentanyl crisis has made the need urgent.

“We can’t sit around and talk about this any longer. This is like you are in a war zone, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” she said.

Health Canada green lights supervised injection site for Sandy Hill

Health Canada has granted an exemption that paves the way for Ottawa's first supervised injection site to open in the city's Sandy Hill neighbourhood — potentially as soon as this fall.

On Wednesday, the federal department gave the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre the green light to build the site at its Nelson Street headquarters.

The community centre has proposed a facility that would provide supervised injections to between 80 and 150 people a day, many of whom already use the centre for other reasons.

"The work of the last five-plus years has come to fruition," said Rob Boyd, the director of the centre's Oasis program, on Wednesday after Health Canada made their decision public.

"It's a bit surreal right now, when I think about the struggle and the efforts over the years, that we're finally here at this point," Boyd said. "I think it's significant for Ottawa. I think it's a recognition that the opioid crisis and the overdose crisis are here in Ottawa."

In January, the centre's board of directors voted to submit their application to Health Canada, shortly after Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins expressed his support for the supervised injection site plans in a letter to Jane Philpott, his federal counterpart.

The application was necessary since Health Canada has to grant an exemption under the federal Controlled Drugs and Services Act before such a site could open.

Boyd said the exemption is "conditional upon a final inspection," meaning the centre has to build the supervised injection room before getting absolute approval.

"Then they come in to inspect it. So now our focus is going to be on getting those renovations completed," he said.

Boyd said he expected the site would open in October.

Feds approve Ottawa's first supervised injection site

The first supervised injection site in the nation’s capital could be open within months now that the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre has a conditional approval from Health Canada.

The federal government signed off on the health centre’s application Wednesday after receiving the request for an injection site last January.

Once a follow-up inspection is done and provincial money comes through, clients will enter one of five injection stations on the first floor of the health centre’s facility on Nelson Street and shoot his or her drugs under the supervision of health experts.

Rob Boyd, director of the harm-reduction program at the centre, said staff can now focus on renovations for the injection room and work with the province on funding.

He wants to have the injection site up and running as soon as possible, but he expects it won’t be until October that the service is ready.

“For many of our clients, this is a difference between life and death,” Boyd said. “This is going to make a huge positive impact.”

David Gibson, executive director of the centre, said it has been five years in the making for the facility.

“It’s a great accomplishment and it speaks mountains of the partnerships with public health, (medical officer of health) Dr. Isra Levy, and all the partners that we have that have stepped up, and more importantly the people that we serve and who have been asking for this way before the five years started,” he said.

Decision close on Sandy Hill supervised injection site

Health Canada’s final decision on whether or not a supervised injection site can open at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre could be coming any day.

According to the Health Canada website, the proposal has completed all five of the required application steps and has now reached the decision stage.

Rob Boyd, Oasis program director at the centre told Metro News he was notified by the department Wednesday they had completed the application to the satisfaction of Health Canada and their case would now be forwarded for a final decision.


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