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Ottawa's supervised injection site will have high-tech drug analyzing device

Ottawa’s first supervised injection site is now slated to have a high-tech device that can almost instantly analyze street drugs to stop overdoses before they happen and flag dangerous new drugs as they land on city streets.

It would be a first in Canada.

Lynne Leonard, a University of Ottawa epidemiologist, announced Thursday that her team has secured funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to put a mass spectrometer at the site set to open this fall at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

Pop-up injection site organizers say they'll keep on going

Mayor Jim Watson is more concerned about votes and public reaction than drug-use management in his criticism of a pop-up supervised injection site in a Lowertown park, says one of the site’s organizers.

“Well, he’s a politician; what can I say?” said Rick Sproule, who’s with Overdose Prevention Ottawa.

“He’s concerned about votes, that’s what he’s concerned about. He’s not a health-care professional, he has no expertise in the field whatsoever.”

On Tuesday, Watson said that injection-site organizers, while well intentioned, weren’t being fair to the community and had “taken over” the park.

Watson wouldn’t say if the city would close down the site, open since Friday afternoon in Raphael Brunet Park, at the intersection of St. Patrick and Cumberland streets.

As of Tuesday night, it has been used 88 times, according to organizers, who said there have been no overdoses so far.

50 visited pop-up drug use tent in 3 days

One of the organizers behind an unsanctioned pop-up drug use site in Ottawa says their first three days of operation have been successful.

In total, 50 people accessed the tent in Raphael Brunet Park at St. Patrick and Cumberland streets on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, nurse Marilou Gagnon told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Monday.

Of those 50 clients, one of them could potentially have overdosed if he wasn't being actively monitored, Gagnon said.

"We're all very sleep deprived and we've all given our best for this to happen in a very short time, and I feel this morning I woke up with a sense of pride that I've never experienced in my life," Gagnon said.

How activists across Canada are subverting the law to establish safe spaces for people to use drugs

In Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and other cities soon, harm-reduction advocates are meeting the fentanyl crisis with a coordinated response

The weekend of July 28, Zoë Dodd was enjoying a rare vacation in Montreal when news reached her that there was a wave of overdoses sweeping through her hometown of Toronto.

A harm-reduction advocate who coordinates a hepatitis C program for drug users, Dodd cut her trip short and caught the next bus back to work.

“Toronto police issue warning after 7 overdoses, 2 fatal; fentanyl suspected,” reads a headline from that Friday (July 28).

“We felt frightened,” Dodd said in a telephone interview. “We knew those sorts of spikes were happening because we were already losing people. We were having memorial after memorial for coworkers and friends that had died. So that spike wasn’t anything new for us. But that was the first time that the police had ever released anything about a spike in the city.”

The bad batch of drugs continued to make its way through Toronto for the next several days. Dodd said the worst of that weekend still hasn’t been reported. “We knew of 12 deaths by the time the weekend was over and into the following days,” she explained. “And those were people that we knew.”

Pop-up drug use site set up in Raphael Brunet Park

Overdose Prevention Ottawa is continuing to operate a supervised drug-use tent at Raphael Brunet Park in Lowertown, despite receiving a complaint that it's breaching city bylaws.

The group says it's setting up the tent across from 310 St. Patrick St. for people to use drugs under supervision so they can better access healthcare.

The unsanctioned "overdose prevention site" follows the lead of similar initiatives in Toronto and Vancouver.

The group, made up of people with experience caring for and supporting drug users, said public health officials recommend not using drugs alone in case of an overdose — especially with very powerful opioids being discretely added to some illicit drugs — so they're offering a supervised space.

Pop-up injection site breaks law for a good cause

The push for legal harm reduction requires breaking the law.

That was the chatter Friday down at the pop-up safe-injection site in Lowertown.

And it’s true.

With the big black tent in the background of Raphael Brunet Park, volunteers prepared for what they expected to be a busy evening. Boxes of fruit snacks and flats of Costco water sat nearby. Some people moseyed through, grabbing a doughnut and cup of coffee and asking what was going on.

Things that are illegal don’t tend to become legal until people realize the consequences aren’t as grave as they fear. More to the point, perhaps, with something like harm reduction and drug use, things don’t tend to become legal until everyone realizes that it was criminality in the first place that made an activity dangerous.

Take overdoses. They’re pretty manageable, in the scheme of things, if you overdose somewhere you can get help.

This is less the case when someone’s shooting up alone in an apartment because they’re embarrassed to do so with friends or don’t want to get caught by the cops.

But with support workers nearby, and a supply of naloxone — which helps arrest an opioid overdose — using drugs becomes a lot less dangerous. That’s the whole logic behind giving out naloxone, free of charge, at pharmacies around town. With more and more powerful drugs, such as fentanyl, on the market, keeping people alive requires some pretty bold solutions.

After all — and it’s by now become a devastating cliché — you can’t help people who are dead.

This particular solution is not necessarily palatable, mind you, to the folks staring out of their condos from across the street, but, to be honest, “tough luck” is the only real response.

Lives are worth more than your queasiness.

Supervised injection site organizers take action

Harm reduction workers and volunteers from Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO) announced more information about the pop-up supervised injection site that will be opening in Ottawa on Friday.

Though they did not disclose the location, volunteers said that they will be setting up a tent with some basic injection supplies—syringes, gloves, naloxone and other first aid kits—and three trained volunteers on hand to respond in the case of an overdose.

“These sites work, they work extremely well,” said OPO volunteer Marilou Gagnon. “There’s 24 in BC, there’s one in Toronto. They work exceptionally well; very low cost, low barriers, and they save lives.”

OPO, along with the Canadian Association for People Who Use Drugs, urged Minister Philpott to declare an official state of emergency—something that would free up extra government resources—and to grant immediate exemptions to all sites who have applied.

“We just can’t justify letting people die because of bureaucracy,” she said. “We wouldn’t let that happen for any other population with a health care need. It wouldn’t be acceptable, so I don’t understand why it would be acceptable for people who use drugs to just tell them to wait and continue to die while we arrange our paperwork.”

Opioid emergency prompts push for unapproved injection site

Drug users are dying while politicians fill out forms and wait for approvals for supervised injection sites, says a group promising to open a guerrilla injection tent of its own somewhere in Ottawa Friday.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa, which has only existed for a matter of days, is taking the delicate political compromises that have let harm-reduction efforts lurch forward here and kicking them aside. Because waiting is costing lives, the group says.

The group has cautious support from Ottawa Public Health, which is resisting political pressure to shut its plans down.

Supervised injection sites are meant to be places where drug addicts can inject chemicals like heroin and have health workers available to react immediately if they overdose. Overdose Prevention Ottawa is pushing against a boulder that’s already moving a little: After years of opposition from the federal Conservatives when they were in government, the Liberals have approved several across Canada. One is due to be added to the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre soon but isn’t open yet.

“We force people to use alone. They don’t have a safe space in Ottawa,” said Marilou Gagnon, a nursing professor at the University of Ottawa and vocal advocate for the idea that drug users benefit more from safe drug supplies and access to nonjudgmental health workers than from prohibitions on their drugs.

Ripple effect

Harm reduction and healthcare workers in Ottawa are planning to open the city’s first unsanctioned overdose prevention pop-up site on Friday, VICE News has learned.

Volunteers with the newly formed Overdose Prevention Ottawa got together last week to discuss the effort, and have purchased a tent to set up at a location that’s yet to be decided.

The site follows the lead of a similar unsanctioned site opened by volunteers in Toronto earlier this month, and a number of unsanctioned sites that have been operating for months in British Columbia as a way around the intense federal application processes required to open a legal supervised injection site.

“It is definitely a strong signal being in the national capital,” Marilou Gagnon, a nurse and associate professor at the University of Ottawa who’s leading the overdose prevention site effort, said in an interview. “It’s a grassroots initiative that is about people coming together and trying to address a crisis. So the idea is to act quickly, with very low costs and simple means.”

“We will not wait and just stand by.”

Pop-up supervised injection site is coming to Ottawa

Ottawa’s first pop-up supervised injection site will be opening on Friday.

The group Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO) will be making the announcement on Thursday morning, but will not be disclosing its location ahead of operations, which are scheduled to begin on Friday.

“We’re going to do exactly what Toronto did and not disclose our location until we set it up,” said Marilou Gagnon, associate professor at the University of Ottawa School of Nursing and volunteer with OPO.

The move is a bold step in the fight against the mounting overdose crisis in Ontario. “The need is there, and if people don’t believe us when we say that, we’ll be able to prove it,” said Gagnon.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre recently received approval from Health Canada to open its site, but they are still in the process of renovating their facilities to meet the ministry’s standards.

Critics say the process is still too slow.

“If the government won’t remove politics from their public health approach, then we’ll remove it for them,” said Jordan Westfall, president of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, in an email.

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