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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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’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.
Council politics have been sucked out of the debate over supervised injection sites with Mayor Jim Watson declaring the public health board as being the ultimate authority.
According to a letter Watson wrote in response to an anticipated application for a supervised injection site, Ottawa Public Health’s board has the final say on the issue.
The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is close to submitting a request to the federal government to have a site at its Nelson Street facility.
The health centre needs the City of Ottawa to write a letter responding to the application.
Watson wrote the letter last month as chief executive officer of the city. His office provided a copy to the Citizen on Wednesday.
In the letter, Watson details the legal rationale for the health board having “jurisdiction and governance” to establish a “formal position” on supervised injection sites in Ottawa.
That means the matter is unlikely to land on city council’s agenda and have politicians debate the merits and weaknesses of supervised injection sites, even though Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins has suggested municipal governments must decide.
The city’s health board – though far from non-political, since six of the 11 members are city councillors – has voted in favour of supporting supervised injection sites in Ottawa.
The federal health minister is pushing cities like Ottawa to open supervised injection sites despite opposition from the capital city's mayor and chief of police.
"We will certainly encourage everyone to have that public health approach, to recognize that this is a health crisis and that we need to provide the appropriate resources," said Jane Philpott, responding to a reporter's question about local opposition to supervised consumption areas, also referred to as supervised injection sites.
Mayor Jim Watson has maintained the focus should be on providing additional treatment options for drug users, while Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau has expressed concerns about public safety.
"The evidence is very clear that when they are well-established and well-maintained in communities that want and need them, supervised consumption sites save lives and do not have a negative impact on crime rates," said Philpott.