She was a nurse who got hooked on prescription painkillers after a serious car crash, and when she lost the services of her doctor, turned to the streets to feed her addiction.
"That's how I found out about Ottawa's underground," she said, sharing her story (though not her name) for the first time at Wednesday's symposium on supervised injection sites (SIS), hosted at the University of Ottawa.
"If there would have been something like (Vancouver's supervised injection site) Insite at that time, maybe I would have gotten out sooner."
Instead, seven years of her life spiraled out of control, her nursing career crushed under the weight of the criminal record now shadowing her.
Her story was one of many shared by panelists at the community discussion, launched by the Campaign for Safe Consumption Sites in Ottawa on the fourth anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court ruling that advocates cite as proof of Insite's "positive impact on the surrounding community and (as) a cost-saving measure."
Ottawa nursing professor Marilou Gagnon recently started a grassroots coalition called Nurses for Supervised Injection Sites. Gagnon says the sites aren’t just places for people to inject drugs in a safer environment – it’s a place to get educated, and a way to link a marginalized group with treatment and health services. It can also save lives, by reducing overdoses and testing for diseases.
Coverage of Overdose Awareness Day in Ottawa on CBC.
Jennifer Bigelow shared her own personal story of drug use and overdose with CBC's Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco. In the extended interview below, she calls on politicians to stop playing games with people's lives and open supervised consumption services in Ottawa.
Drug users, recovering addicts and sober allies demanded local supervised safe injection sites and more access to naloxone — a substance that works as an antidote to overdose — during a rally on International Overdose Awareness Day Monday.
A group of about 50 people protested at the annual event, organized by the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre and held at the Human Rights Memorial by city hall on Elgin Street. Set on the monument were 45 pairs of shoes, each a testament to one of the lives lost to drug overdoses in Ottawa last year.
Crowd calls for supervised injection site, more access to overdose antidote naloxone after Ottawa paramedics responded to 2,600 calls for overdoses last year.
It took three overdoses before Jennifer Bigelow got the help she needed.
A drug addict of 31 years, Bigelow started sniffing lines at 16, then turned to sex work to feed her drive for crack and needles. She woke up from that third scary overdose to her best friend breathing life into her body.
Forty-five pairs of shoes lined the Human Rights Monument on Elgin Street on Monday, representing the estimated number of people who died from drug overdoses in Ottawa last year.
In accordance with International Overdose Awareness Day, members of Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites and Drug Users Advocacy League called for supervised injection sites in Ottawa to prevent drug overdoses and to challenge what they say is the stigma faced by drug users.
The call for a safe injection site for drug users in Ottawa was renewed Monday.
It's International Overdose Awareness Day and members of the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites and Drug Users Advocacy League gathered at the Human Rights Monument to raise awareness about the issue.
Set on the monument were 45 pairs of shoes, one pair to represent each of the people who were estimated to have died from an overdose in Ottawa last year.
Ottawa paramedic Paul Morneau said that number just begins to scratch the surface.
A coalition of nurses and nursing students is hoping to put injection sites on the agenda during the federal election campaign.
The group called Nurses for Supervised Injection Services is encouraging others to vote for parties that support the creation of more sites throughout Canada.
The Conservative Party, which has fought Canada’s only supervised injection site for drug users in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, is the only one of the major parties that does not support the expansion of such sites. The Conservative government passed a law that supporters of the sites say creates barriers for communities opening injection sites similar to Vancouver’s.
Marilou Gagnon, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Ottawa, said nurses are generally supportive of supervised injection services because they “really understand why they are important and should be implemented.” There are more than 280,000 registered nurses in Canada.
Supporters of supervised drug-injection sites, such as Vancouver’s Insite, are keeping a cautious eye on the federal election, as Stephen Harper vows to fight their expansion and questions their benefit as part of his government’s tough-on-drugs agenda.
The latest challenge, laid out by Mr. Harper during a campaign stop this week in a suburban Toronto riding, comes as Montreal prepares to become the second Canadian city to offer a medically supervised setting for injection drug users. It also comes as drug overdoses and deaths linked to fentanyl are making headlines and groups in Toronto and Ottawa continue to cautiously work to build support for future sites.
Mr. Harper brought up the topic during a policy announcement, saying NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau would welcome “heroin injection sites” into more neighbourhoods. The data are “very mixed” on safe injection sites, he said. He added that Canadians do not want them in their neighbourhood because such a site “flows the entire drug trade into that community.”
Both the Liberals and the New Democrats are in favour of safe injection sites, and a Supreme Court of Canada ruling said Insite saves lives.
A new study suggests a significant number of Ottawa’s most serious drug addicts would use a safe injection site if one ever opened in this city.
The study, prepared for a group that wants to bring at least two safe injection sites to Ottawa, found that 75.4 per cent of surveyed addicts said they would be prepared to use a facility where they could inject drugs with clean needles under medical supervision.
That level of participation would reduce overdose deaths and offer huge health benefits to drug users, who suffer high rates of HIV and Hepatitis-C, while also improving the safety of downtown streets made hazardous by discarded needles, advocates said Thursday at a community meeting held to discuss the study.
“I think it shows that, contrary to popular belief, drug users are actually interested in their health,” said Rob Boyd, director of a program at Sandy Hill Community Health Centre that offers harm reduction and health services to drug users and sex workers.
“I think it shows they’re interested in ways of using drugs that are less harmful and that they don’t want to be using drugs publicly,” he said. “We all want a solution to drug use on the curb.”