As Ottawa's top doctor voices his support for supervised drug injection sites, there's a mixed opinion among city councillors who may eventually play a key role in approving one.
Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's medical officer of health, put out a statement earlier this week about the benefits of a place where drug users can inject while being watched by trained staff and later said the city may need more than one of them.
The director of the downtown Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is also holding public meetings on the idea it could host a supervised injection site, pending approval of the federal government.
When asked Friday about supervised injection sites in Ottawa, city councillors expressed a wide range of opinions.
A coalition of addiction treatment agencies has unanimously endorsed the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre’s plan to open a supervised injection site in downtown Ottawa.
“There is clear evidence of need for supervised injection services in Ottawa,” Lise Girard, chair of the Champlain Addiction Co-ordinating Body, wrote in a letter of support obtained by Postmedia. The co-ordinating body represents 20 government-funded agencies in the region that offer drug and alcohol treatment programs.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, a longstanding critic of the plan to open a safe injection site, has said that scarce health care dollars are better spent on drug and alcohol treatment programs in the city.
But in an interview, Girard said if she had the choice, she would finance a supervised injection site in downtown Ottawa rather than give more money to local addiction programs.
“I would put the money toward a safe injection site at this time,” said Girard, also senior director of the mental health and addictions programs at the Ottawa Withdrawal Management Centre. “Because this is going to save lives. People overdose and there are new drugs coming on the street all the time.”
Jordon MacLean worked an 18-hour day on Thursday but still had trouble getting to sleep when he finished.
The social worker and coordinator at Ottawa's Drug Users Advocacy League (DUAL) said Friday he was extremely excited to hear the city's chief medical officer of health talk about the benefits of a supervised drug injection site.
"Wow what a difference from a month ago when it was no comment and now everyone's saying this is proven, with evidence, that this is about saving lives," said MacLean, a recovering drug user himself, on Friday.
"It makes me want to cry, it's just so amazing that we're finally caring about people that are vulnerable."
On Thursday, Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's medical officer of health, put out a statement talking about the benefits of a supervised injection site as part of a broader harm reduction strategy for drug users.
The City of Ottawa's top doctor says supervised drug injection sites "save lives," and said if the city chooses to welcome the facilities, it may need more than one.
"Safer, or supervised consumption sites are an unquestioned part of the spectrum of health services," said Dr. Isra Levy, the city's chief medical officer of health.
"Do we need one in Ottawa? We may need more than one."
"The issue that then becomes part of this conversation is, what about access? To get good access, we may want to be looking at things like mobile services, we may want to be looking at services in other, existing, health facilities."
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins has suggested he will only consider funding a supervised injection site for Ottawa if the project has municipal approval.
In a statement issued to Postmedia, Hoskins said decisions about supervised injection sites rest mostly with federal and municipal governments.
“I understand that such a proposal is currently being considered by the City of Ottawa,” he said. “Our government has been clear that we will consider a request for a safe injection site if a municipality were to come forward with a proposal.”
Asked to clarify whether the province would consider a proposal that came directly from a health centre, not a municipality, an official in Hoskins’s office said, “We’re not going to prejudge the outcomes of the municipal process.”
Hoskins said he hopes the federal government’s new openness to supervised injection sites will act as a catalyst, and bring political leaders together to address the issue.
In a hallway in the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, there’s a memorial wall of photos and handwritten notes. “I miss your face,” reads one note. Another says: “My heart misses your heart.”
And then this, which should stop you cold: “In memory of everyone the system couldn’t help.”
Each year, an estimated 40 people die from drug overdoses in Ottawa, many from injection drug use. One way to help users who can’t shake their addiction is to monitor the injection at a supervised injection site. In the event of an overdose, there’s medical aid on site. Users might feel less rushed, which helps prevent overdose and infection. And more drug users would get access to clean needles, thereby reducing the spread of disease.
That same health centre whose little wall documents so much heartbreak proposes to open a safe, clean room where users can shoot up.
This sort of supervised injection site may not help everyone (there are up to 5,600 injection drug users in Ottawa.) But Ottawa needs to find a way to keep addicts alive long enough so they have a chance for proper treatment.
In less than two years addicts in the city of Ottawa could have a safe, clean environment to do drugs.
A public consultation took place Monday at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre about a proposal to open the capital’s first supervised injection site at the community health centre. The intervention program has been applauded by many health care professionals as an effective method to reduce overdoses, while also reducing the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.
Neighbours, real estate agents and drug users all sat together Monday night to hear the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre's proposal for a safe drug injection site in Ottawa.
It was the first of four meetings that the centre's director, Rob Boyd, said are aimed at educating people about misconceptions as well as hearing out people's concerns.
Boyd wants to incorporate the feedback and hopefully some community buy-in as part of a detailed plan to present to the centre's board of directors in June, proposing to create a supervised drug injection site at its Nelson Street location.
About 30 people took part in sessions showing how users would access the centre's lower floor, where already about 700 drug users take part in the centre's needle exchange.
Those using the new safe injection site would receive an drug injection kit, which includes items such as a clean needle and alcohol swabs.
The person would then move into an adjacent room to inject her/himself under the supervision of a nurse.
Darren Noftall is already using the needle exchange program, as well as other services from the centre. He said he injects himself on average three times a day.
"Addicts are people too, and we deserve a safe space," said Noftall, who explained that because he injects at home he is at high risk of being alone if he suffers an overdose.
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.
Public consultations begin Monday on a controversial proposal by the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre to give injection drug users a safe place to feed their addictions.
The first of four planned meetings will take place at the centre’s Nelson Street facility on Monday evening. Local residents will be invited to learn about the proposed safe injection site, ask questions and offer feedback.
The health centre wants to add a small-scale facility — with room for four or five injection drug users — to its existing cluster of services.
“The goal for us is to provide some education to the local community in terms of some of the myths and misunderstandings about a supervised injection service,” said health centre executive Rob Boyd. “And we want to hear what they have to say about our service model.”
The safe injection site, he said, can address the principal health risks faced by drug users — overdoses and infections — while also reducing the number of people injecting in public places and discarding their needles.