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.

Council politics taken out of Ottawa supervised injection site debate after letter by mayor

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.

Health minister encourages Ottawa mayor to look at supervised injection sites

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.

Editorial: Canada and Ottawa need safer injection sites

It’s too late to save the hundreds of Canadians who’ve already died this year from drug overdoses, but the Liberals’ proposed changes, which would make it easier to open safe-injection sites, will help cities come to grips with a crisis that’s cutting a tragic swath across the country. Absent full drug legalization (and the better health oversight it brings), the best we can do is try to minimize the harm of drug use.

“We need to take swift action on the opioid crisis to save lives,” said Health Minister Jane Philpott, having waited a year into her mandate to actually make it easier to open safe-injection sites.

The Liberals have proposed a five-step plan that, while repealing the more than two-dozen steps needed to open a safe-injection site, still maintains some troublesome elements from the last government’s policy, such as having to prove the need for a site (why wait for the body count to climb?) and gathering evidence about the effect on crime (rates haven’t gone up around injection sites already open).

Sandy Hill health centre plans for 7-day-a-week supervised injection site

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre has asked the province for $1.4 million a year to operate a supervised injection site seven days a week, 12 hours a day in downtown Ottawa.

The estimated cost has more than quadrupled since a plan for the service was unveiled earlier this year.

Rob Boyd, director of the health centre’s harm reduction program, said costs have gone up as the service model changed in response to the public’s feedback — and to the quickening pace of the opioid epidemic.

Community members, he said, made it clear they want drug users to be able to access the centre’s medical, social and counselling services whenever they visit the injection site.

“They felt we needed to be open as many hours as possible: that this was not going to be a Monday to Friday, nine to five service,” he said. “What that does is scale up the cost of doing this.”

With supervised injection sites easier to get approved, will Ottawa get one?

On Monday, the Liberal government tabled legislation that will remove many of the barriers to building safe injection sites that the previous Conservative government had established.

The current rules require a safe injection site to satisfy 26 criteria before getting federal approval, including a letter signing off on the proposal from the city and from the police chief.

But the new Liberal legislation will have just five criteria for approval, such as demonstrating the need for such a site, showing that community consultation was done, and assessing the effect it may have on crime in the area.

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