'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He said he wants to see drug prohibition completely repealed.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.”

National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis

Our lives won’t wait.

That’s why on February 21st people who use drugs in seven Canadian cities will participate in demonstrations and marches to change Canadian drug policy for the better.

Join us in Ottawa to call on the federal government to:

  1. End the War on Drugs. In the short-term, decriminalize possession of all drugs. In the long term full legalization and regulation of drugs.
  2. Grant immediate exemptions to all supervised injection service (SIS) applicants and/or define them and any future SIS as health services implemented solely by provincial authorities.
  3. Create a specific harm reduction initiative as part of the new Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, to support, expand and adequately fund harm reduction programs and strategies including explicit funding for the development of drug user-based organizations and advocacy groups.
  4. Remove barriers and increase access to opioid substitution therapy including access to prescription heroin.
  5. Implement harm reduction in prisons : needle exchange programs, increasing access to opioid substitution therapy and continuation after release

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.

Sandy Hill health centre a step closer to supervised drug injection site

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is one step closer to realizing its goal of having a supervised drug injection site after its board of directors voted Wednesday night to submit an exemption application to Health Canada.

Earlier this month, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins expressed his support for the centre's plans in a letter to federal Health Minister Jane Philpott. Health Canada would have to approve an exemption under the federal Controlled Drugs and Services Act to open the facility.

Rob Boyd, the director of the centre's Oasis program, previously told CBC Ottawa that a supervised injection site could be open by the summer if funding negotiations go well. It would be the first site of its kind in Ottawa.

The Rideau Street 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.

On average, 48 people die in Ottawa of drug-related causes each year, according to the centre. Ottawa also has Ontario's highest rates of HIV and Hepatitis C among people who inject drugs, according to health unit statistics.

Majority of Ottawa residents in favour of safe injection site

A new poll suggests most Ottawa residents are in favour of a safe injection site, even though the seriousness of the opioid crisis has yet to register with many of them.

The Mainstreet Research poll, conducted for Postmedia, found that 53 per cent of those surveyed support the plan to open a safe injection site in Ottawa.

The pollsters found that 32 per cent of respondents disapproved of the idea; 15 per cent offered no opinion.

Officials from the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre have submitted a proposal to the federal government and hope to open a facility this spring that would allow clients to take drugs under medical supervision.

“Ottawans generally approve of seeing safe injection sites in their city as a tool for harm reduction,” said Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Research.

Coming soon to Ontario: supervised injection sites

TVO's The Agenda hosts an excellent in-depth discussion of the benefits of supervised injection sites and the pressing need in Ottawa & Toronto with Joe Cressy and Dr. Ahmed Bayoumi.

Last July, Toronto approved the establishment of three safe injection sites and now, in an effort to battle opioid overdose deaths, the province has agreed to fund those sites and one in Ottawa. Toronto Councillor Joe Cressy has been a strong advocate for the public health benefits of such facilities. Dr. Bayoumi is the co-author of the 2012 TOSCA report on the harm reduction potential of safe injection sites in Ottawa and Toronto.

A supervised injection site could arrive in Ottawa by the summer

Now that the province has announced its support for a supervised drug injection site in Ottawa, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre hopes to have one open before this summer if funding negotiations go well.

The health centre estimates it would cost about $1.4 million to run a site annually.

Rob Boyd, the director of the centre's Oasis program, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Tuesday the estimate is based on an expansion of the centre's existing services.

The site would be open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in order to give users access to other forms of help.

The centre still requires a letter from Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau who has expressed some public safety concerns about supervised injection sites.

Boyd said Tuesday he believes the centre's proposal addresses some of Bordeleau's concerns and they hope a letter from the chief will come in the next couple of weeks.

After that, if funding negotiations with the province go well and move quickly, Boyd hopes the centre will have a supervised injection site ready before this summer.

Ontario health minister supports Ottawa injection site, says provincial funding available

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins supports the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre’s request for a supervised injection site and says there will be provincial money available to help set it up.

Hoskins sent a letter Monday to federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, saying the Sandy Hill health centre’s proposal “appears logical and supported by evidence.”

“Given the importance of this issue, we are also developing a provincial framework in order to respond to the safe injection site proposals from Toronto and Ottawa, as well as other municipalities or other applicants that may request similar programs for their cities in the future and will provide full details within the next few weeks,” Hoskins said in a written statement released by his office.

That’s a big boost for the Sandy Hill health centre, which wants to open an injection site at its Nelson Street facility. The health centre needs a federal exemption to allow drugs at the site and plans to submit an application this month, if its board approves the initiative on Jan. 18.

Ottawa police board direction on injection sites not required, chair says

The chair of the Ottawa Police Services board doesn’t believe it needs to wade into the injection site debate, agreeing with the mayor that Ottawa Public Health is the right authority.

While Coun. Eli El-Chantiry has his own reservations about injections sites, he believes the issue is rightly in the hands of the public health board.

“Right now it’s not an issue for police yet,” El-Chantiry said Thursday.

“We have a public health board. They have the mandate to deal with that. They have the experts on the panel. I think that’s a good place to have the discussion.”

Ottawa is combating a drug crisis with a vending machine that dispenses clean needles and pipes

Ottawa’s public health authority is trying to curb drug overdoses with new vending machines that will dispense clean needles and pipes — one of the first harm reduction efforts of its kind in North America.

The plan comes as the opioid crisis continues move across Canada toward eastern cities that are bracing for a similar rise in overdose deaths recorded in Alberta and British Columbia, which has declared a public health emergency over the matter.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in overdoses due to opioids, not the same as Vancouver, but we are aware that that’s possible here,” Vera Etches, Ottawa’s deputy medical officer of health, told VICE News.

She said the five vending machines are part of a pilot project that will complement existing harm reduction services and clean needle exchanges in the city that are generally open only until 4:30 PM. There’s also a mobile van that does outreach from 5 PM until midnight, but that still leaves significant gaps in time.

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