Safe injection sites have potential to save lives, says Jane Philpott

Federal health minister says the more people know about them, the greater their support

Toronto's medical officer of health is calling on Canada's largest city to move one step closer to opening three safe drug-injection sites.

In the report, Dr. David McKeown calls for three sites to be located at The Works Needle Exchange Program, the Queen West Community Health Centre and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott told the CBC last week that supervised injection sites are among a number of strategies the government has put forward to cope with drug abuse and overdose deaths.

"From a public health point of view it makes a tremendous amount of sense," she said. "Sites like Insite in Vancouver and others like them have the possibility to save countless lives."

Why Ontario still has zero safe injection sites

Intravenous drug users run the risk of higher rates of HIV and hepatitis infections, as well as the ever-present danger of overdose. A straightforward policy that could save lives and money across Canada, and has already been cleared by Canadian courts: supervised injection facilities. In a 2011 ruling on their legality, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that there is little or no evidence that they will have a negative impact on public safety.

But in 2016, no legal supervised injection sites exist anywhere but British Columbia. People who’ve been advocating for an expansion of safe injection beyond the two legal sites in Canada — Insite and the Dr. Peter Centre, both in Vancouver — say it's urgently needed.

“For me, it means less of my friends are going to die,” says Sean Leblanc, chair of Ottawa’s Drug Users Advocacy League. “We lose 40 people a year in Ottawa to overdose deaths, and a lot of those could be prevented with supervised injection.”

Evidence-based government? Let's open supervised injection sites

Safe injection sites save lives. Five small words, an indisputable truth. But Mayor Jim Watson won’t see one on city streets in Ottawa, nor will police Chief Charles Bordeleau.

Under current federal law, the process to get an exemption under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act — needed to open a place where people are going to shoot up — requires consultation with mayors, local politicians and police. There’s that, and a whole slew of other conditions that make it practically impossible to open a supervised injection site.

It’s time for that to change.

Last week, Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott was in Vancouver for a meeting with provincial health ministers, and she said she was moved by a visit to Insite, the safe injection site in the city’s desperately impoverished downtown eastside. Good. She should be moved. But she should also move quickly to amend legislation, making it easier to open safe injection sites.

Given that some powerful local figures oppose them, it’s going to require proper leadership from the federal government to look out for the most desperate in Canadian cities. It is, it must be said, to Ottawa’s shame that we can’t all get our act together to help drug users.

Donna May believes a safe injection site could have saved her daughter

It's been just a little more than two years since Donna May, the mother of a dead drug addict, came to Ottawa to plead for a safe injection site in the nation's capital.

Her message couldn't have been more clear or more heartbreaking.

"Mine is a hard story to tell. If you have already formed an opinion, based on what you've been told, or educated by what your community leaders have guided you to believe, I used to be one of you," she said back in October 2013.

"There is no worse blind man than the one who does not want to see. I changed my opinion completely and my hope in sharing my story is to at least open your mind."

May, who lives in Toronto, was feeling safe in her suburban lifestyle when her daughter began taking drugs.

With her story, she could have been speaking directly to me -and to many of my suburban friends and thousands of others who just inherently feel without any real justification that safe injection sites are absolutely wrong.

The good news about her appearance calling for safe injection sites is that May did cause many of us in the room to think more thoughtfully about our somewhat instinctive and very negative reaction to safe injection sites.

For sure, it's a hard sell.

Supervised injection sites in Ottawa make financial sense, researcher says

Opening two supervised injection sites in Ottawa would save the health system money, new analysis suggests.

Ahmed Bayoumi, a medical researcher with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, called supervised injection sites a “good investment in health dollars.”

He is among authors of a report looking at the potential cost-effectiveness of supervised injection facilities in Toronto and Ottawa. The study was published Monday in the journal Addiction.

Bayoumi and others updated analysis they conducted in 2012 in light of dramatic new treatment for hepatitis C. Drugs that treat and even cure hepatitis C are now available, but they are costly, which means strategies to reduce the spread of hepatitis C by injection drug users could save the health system substantial money, said Bayoumi.

That is a key issue in Ottawa where transmission rates of hepatitis C and HIV among injection drug users are higher than Toronto.

The research found that over 20 years, one supervised injection facility in Ottawa would avert 358 HIV infections and 323 hepatitis C infections. One facility would cost $31.5 million in operating costs and save $32.3 million in health care costs, the analysis found.

Study says safe-injection sites make financial sense for Ontario

Opening five safe-injection sites in Ontario makes financial sense, says a medical researcher who based his study on a Vancouver clinic where drug users shoot up under supervision.

Dr. Ahmed Bayoumi of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto said establishing facilities such as Insite in that city and in Ottawa would save money and reduce the incidence of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.

"Three facilities for Toronto and two for Ottawa represent a good investment compared to other things that we ordinarily invest in in health care," he said in an interview Monday.

The study follows up on earlier research that said safe injection sites in Toronto and Ottawa would improve the health of intravenous drug users. The latest information takes into account new treatments for hepatitis C which, though effective, are also much more expensive.

A typical six-month course of hepatitis C treatment costs about $60,000, Bayoumi said

Prospects brighten for drug injection site in Ottawa

Remember the snarky debate about a safe drug-injection site in Ottawa?

Well, because it’s 2015, because of sunny ways, because a new, shaggy-haired sheriff’s in town, expect to hear more sound and fury on the issue, and real soon.

It was the one topic that spontaneously drew applause at the 12th annual community forum sponsored by the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa on Tuesday at the RA Centre.

While the Conservative government of Stephen Harper hated the idea and wanted to shut Canada’s only such site in Vancouver, the Liberals are more welcoming.

“With the new Liberal government, there is definitely an appetite to look at it,” said Rob Boyd, director of Oasis, a drug treatment program run from the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

“We’re a lot more optimistic at this point that this is something that can happen.”

PROUD study finds need for supervised injection services in Ottawa

The PROUD study is a community-based participatory research (CBPR) project that examines the HIV risk environment among people who use drugs in Ottawa. From March to October 2013, 593 people who reported using injection drugs or smoking crack cocaine were enrolled through street-based recruitment in the ByWard Market neighbourhood, an area of the city with a high concentration of public drug use and homelessness. Participants completed a demographic, behavioural, and risk environment questionnaire and were offered HIV point-of-care testing. The study undertook descriptive and univariate analyses to estimate potential use of an SIS by PWID in Ottawa and to explore risk behaviours and features of the risk environment faced by potential users of the service.

The PROUD study concluded that an SIS in Ottawa would be well-positioned to reach its target group of highly marginalized PWID and reduce drug-related harms. The application of CBPR methods to a large-scale quantitative survey supported the mobilization of communities of PWID to identify and advocate for their own service needs, creating an enabling environment for harm reduction action.

Read the full published study here.

Minister of Health: Support supervised consumption sites for community health

Send a message to Canada's Health Minister and call on the government to support, not punish people facing increased health risks due to drug use.

Evidence from Canada and around the world shows that supervised consumption sites reduce the harms associated with drug use and promote a higher quality of life in communities affected by drug addiction.

But instead of supporting the health and human rights of people who use drugs, the former Conservative government created significant barriers to establishing these facilities in cities where they are urgently needed.

It's time for a new era in Canadian health care and drug policy.

Join us in calling on the Liberal government to prioritize the health and wellbeing of people who use drugs, and their families and communities, by supporting the creation of supervised consumption sites.

Group advocates for safer injection sites in Ottawa

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."

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