Ottawa firefighters certified to administer naloxone

There are at least two firefighters on every truck in every urban Ottawa fire station trained in administering naloxone, a powerful antidote for opioid overdoses, and training will continue until all firefighters in all 45 stations can administer the drug.

“Two years ago the most recent statistics showed we had approximately 45 people died by overdose in the city of Ottawa,” Mayor Jim Watson said Tuesday during a joint announcement with Ottawa Fire Chief Gerry Pingitore at Station 36.

Last month Pingitore said that naloxone kits and training would be rolled out across the department by the end of June.

Streamlined injection-site conditions become law

A piece of legislation that makes it easier to open supervised injection sites has become law, replacing Harper-era regulations that effectively stalled the harm-reduction service as overdose deaths climbed.

Under Bill C-37, which received royal assent on Thursday, agencies wanting to open a supervised-injection site must meet five streamlined conditions, down from 26 under the previous Respect for Communities Act.

The Liberal government tabled the bill in December. It received final approval on Wednesday, with minor amendments.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott called the passing of the bill “very good news.”

“As you well know, we’re facing an overdose epidemic in this country of unprecedented proportions,” she told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday.

“[The legislation] will have a significant impact in terms of our ability to offer harm-reduction services, including, of course, facilitating the ability for communities that want and need supervised consumption sites to be able to establish those facilities.”

Province will fund Sandy Hill Supervised Injection Site

As Ottawa’s opioid crisis grows, the proposed Supervised Injection Site (SIS) in Sandy Hill has cleared another hurdle.

The Ontario government confirmed in the budget released April 27 that it will fund the site, as long as it gets approval from the federal government.

Rob Boyd, Oasis program director at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, where the SIS will be housed, said they are still in negotiations with the province and have not yet nailed down the exact capital and operating costs.

“We are very concerned about this recent spike in overdoses. We don’t think it’s an anomaly. We think it’s very likely the way things are going forward now,” he said.

But, Boyd said, it is looking less likely the site will be able to open this summer because the community health centre will have to do some renovations and hire and train specialized staff before they can open it.

“Everybody is working together as quickly as possible on this and I think everybody is motivated to get this thing up and running as quickly as possible,” he said.

Ottawa's supervised-injection site 'going to happen' after nod in Ontario budget

With the promise of funding in the Ontario budget tabled Thursday, Ottawa’s first supervised drug-injection site will almost certainly open later this year.

Though no dollar amounts were announced, the document firms up a promise by Health Minister Eric Hoskins in January in supporting an application from the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

The centre has asked for $1.4 million annually to run the site, which organizers hope will be open 12 hours a day, seven days a week in their location on Nelson Street, near the corner of Rideau.

Rob Boyd, director of the Oasis program at Sandy Hill — and a key figure in the injection-site application — said he was pleased to see Ottawa’s plan mentioned in the document. “This is going to happen.”

He was initially hoping the site would open this summer but he said the centre needs at least four to six weeks after capital funding has been secured. The site would accommodated by reconfiguring existing space in the centre.

“We can’t get this open fast enough,” said Boyd. He said he’s very concerned about the spike in overdoses that struck the city in a 72-hour period last week, suggesting an influx of a powerful version of fentanyl had flooded normal supply lines.

Somerset West Community Health Centre moves forward with injection site

 With no time to waste, Somerset West Community Health Centre is moving forward with its plan to offer a supervised injection site.

“Our current attempts at solving the drug crisis are not enough,” Stan Kupferschmidt, harm reduction outreach worker at the centre, said in a recent interview.

 “We felt we had to go ahead with this. We’ve lost far too many community members in just the last year.”

The health centre is moving forward with its plan to offer the service by applying for funding from the province and applying to the federal government for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to operate the site.

Consultations were held earlier this month and the feedback from recent meetings forms part of the document required so the health centre can be considered for the federal government exemption.

Ottawa health authorities consider prescription heroin to treat addicts

Ottawa’s health unit supports prescribing heroin to treat severe addicts and at least one treatment clinic is considering it as the city fights the rising rates of overdoses from it and similar opioid drugs.

“We really see it as more an extension of our opiate substitution therapy program than part of our supervised injection efforts,” said Rob Boyd, the head of the drug-treatment programs at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre on Rideau Street. Boyd has been leading the charge to add an injection site to the centre’s existing methadone clinic.

Methadone is the standard way of treating people addicted to opioids — especially heroin but also fentanyl and oxycodone. It tickles the same receptors in the brain but you drink it rather than shooting it with a needle. With standardized dosages and pharmaceutical quality, it’s safer. But it doesn’t work for everybody.

“I’m not sure if I understand completely the chemistry behind it all, but we would look at people who are on the other opiate-treatment programs, who continue to supplement their medication with street-level opioids,” Boyd said.

About 150 people in Vancouver are in a prescription-heroin program after finding methadone and buprenorphine, a similar drug, didn’t help them. Boyd guesses the number of Ottawans who’d benefit from prescription heroin is in the low dozens.

Ottawa Public Health “supports the use of prescribed heroin and it should be incorporated — where clinically appropriate — as a harm-reduction option,” the city’s top public-health official, Dr. Isra Levy, said through a spokesman Wednesday. “Opioid substitution therapy is part of the continuum of care needed to improve health outcomes and is part of the available options to support people in Ottawa wherever they are on the spectrum of substance use.”

$2.5M not enough to fund city's opioid fight, frontline workers say

The $2.5 million in funding the province has promised the City of Ottawa to deal with its opioid crisis is not enough, according to some community health officials on the front lines of the fight against the potentially lethal drugs.

Ontario, and other provinces, are about 10 years behind on properly addressing the issue, according to Rob Boyd, executive director of the Oasis Program at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

"We've got a system that's been chronically underfunded for decades, and we are not prepared for what has come upon us," said Boyd.

Advocates call for action on fentanyl overdose crisis at Parliament Hill rally

Advocates for drug users gathered on Parliament Hill Tuesday afternoon to demand concrete action from the federal government in response to the fentanyl overdose crisis that's plaguing communities across the country.

The National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis was organized by the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, with rallies in eight Canadian cities including Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.

"If you can't live, you can't recover. You can't do anything in life. The first thing that we have to do is keep people alive," said Rick Sproule with the Drug Users Advocacy League in Ottawa.

Sproule, who helped organize the event, said he would like to see immediate government action to combat fatal overdoses.

"The federal government is talking about new injection sites [and] that would help very much with this overdose crisis. But they haven't done anything yet. They can talk all they want, but we're dying on a daily basis."

According to Ottawa Public Health, there were approximately 50 overdose deaths in the capital in 2015. Twenty-nine were due to opioids, and 14 of those involved fentanyl.

'They talk, we die': Protesters push for action on overdose crisis

Dozens gathered Tuesday on Parliament Hill to push the government to deal with opioid overdoses.

It was one of eight protests organized across the country by the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, an organization of past and present drug users, and their allies.

“Many people in this community know someone that has died,” said Rick Sproule, a member of the Ottawa-based Drug Users Advocacy League and the organizer of this protest.

He said that’s why he and many other Canadians are pushing hard for an end to the “war on drugs.”

He said he wants to see drug prohibition completely repealed.

“I know it’s an extreme position, but it’s the only permanent way out of the overdose crisis,” he said.

He said that would decrease illicit drug use and facilitate harm-reduction services, such as supervised injection sites and readily available kits with naloxone — the opioid antidote.

His fear remains fixed on the fact that counterfeit drugs often look like prescription drugs, meaning many aren’t always aware of what they’re consuming — or how deadly it could be.

“If we can regulate the drugs, we know how much is in them,” Sproule said, “Right now, the way the drug supply is on the street … you can never be sure how strong it is and what it is.”

Community health centres are the right fit for supervised injection services

In June 2016, the Board of Directors of Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) approved the possible expansion of the Centre’s harm reduction program to include supervised injection services (SIS).

SIS provide a safe space for drug users to inject pre-obtained drugs under medical supervision. Staff do not inject drugs; rather, they are an important point of contact with the health system for injection drug users who are typically not well connected to health care services.

Community Health Centres (CHCs) are the right fit for SIS because not only do we care about improving the health and well-being of all people – including those who use drugs – we also care about the health and safety of our community.

SWCHC and Centretown Community Health Centre (CCHC) believe that every person deserves access to the health services they need to improve their well-being. SIS are evidence-based: they save lives by reducing overdoses – because medical staff are on site to intervene in the case of an overdose – and the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

For people who use drugs, supervised injection improves their well-being because it provides a safe space to inject and to connect with services.


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