Watson's position on injection site 'ridiculous,' says former Vancouver mayor

The Vancouver politician who championed supervised injection sites in that city says Mayor Jim Watson should try to understand drug addicts before rejecting a plan that would keep more of them alive. 

“I just get annoyed at politicians who don’t go out into the field and talk to the participants and find out what’s really going on,” former Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen said in an interview with Postmedia. “You can’t always rely on reports from your staff.”

Watson attends hundreds of community events each year, but Sean LeBlanc, chair of the Drug Users Advocacy League of Ottawa, said the mayor has yet to accept one of his invitations. “We have invited Mr. Watson to several events over several different years. He has attended none of them,” said LeBlanc.

Watson is a longstanding opponent of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre’s plan to open a supervised injection site in downtown Ottawa. He has said tax money is better spent on drug treatment programs.

Owen said Watson’s position is “ridiculous” and perpetuates the notion that drug use is a crime rather than a health issue. “You’re not encouraging people to use drugs by opening a supervised injection site,” he argued. “You’re assisting people who need help.”

People who trust evidence versus people who trust their guts on supervised injection

Conversations about supervised injection sites, such as the one that might come to Sandy Hill, can get polarized fast.

On one side, you have the people who say, “How can you ignore all the evidence that supervised injection sites save lives and might even make the neighbourhood safer?” On the other, you have the people who say, “How can you honestly be arguing that the state should be paying to help people shoot up?”

The issue divides people along fundamental philosophical lines: those who trust the evidence, and those who trust their guts.

Politicians tend to fall onto one side or the other, too, but some of the more wily politicians hedge their bets. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, for example, has long argued that supervised injections sites simply aren’t the best use of scarce resources, which should fund rehab programs instead.

This is, from a political perspective, nice and safe. Nobody is going to argue against funding rehab programs.

From a policy perspective, though, it’s incredibly damaging. It perpetuates the false notion that treatment and harm reduction are two distinct paths. In fact, they’re often part of the same journey.

“We think of addiction treatment as anything that can move someone toward stabilization,” says Rob Boyd, director of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre’s harm reduction program. That means something different for every person, depending on where they’re starting.

Supervised injection site debate divides Ottawa city councillors

As Ottawa's top doctor voices his support for supervised drug injection sites, there's a mixed opinion among city councillors who may eventually play a key role in approving one.

Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's medical officer of health, put out a statement earlier this week about the benefits of a place where drug users can inject while being watched by trained staff and later said the city may need more than one of them.

The director of the downtown Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is also holding public meetings on the idea it could host a supervised injection site, pending approval of the federal government.

When asked Friday about supervised injection sites in Ottawa, city councillors expressed a wide range of opinions.

'A no brainer': Drug treatment agencies want a safer injection site in Ottawa

A coalition of addiction treatment agencies has unanimously endorsed the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre’s plan to open a supervised injection site in downtown Ottawa.

“There is clear evidence of need for supervised injection services in Ottawa,” Lise Girard, chair of the Champlain Addiction Co-ordinating Body, wrote in a letter of support obtained by Postmedia. The co-ordinating body represents 20 government-funded agencies in the region that offer drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, a longstanding critic of the plan to open a safe injection site, has said that scarce health care dollars are better spent on drug and alcohol treatment programs in the city.

But in an interview, Girard said if she had the choice, she would finance a supervised injection site in downtown Ottawa rather than give more money to local addiction programs.

“I would put the money toward a safe injection site at this time,” said Girard, also senior director of the mental health and addictions programs at the Ottawa Withdrawal Management Centre. “Because this is going to save lives. People overdose and there are new drugs coming on the street all the time.”

Supervised injection site support from Ottawa Public Health 'huge', say advocates

Jordon MacLean worked an 18-hour day on Thursday but still had trouble getting to sleep when he finished.

The social worker and coordinator at Ottawa's Drug Users Advocacy League (DUAL) said Friday he was extremely excited to hear the city's chief medical officer of health talk about the benefits of a supervised drug injection site.

"Wow what a difference from a month ago when it was no comment and now everyone's saying this is proven, with evidence, that this is about saving lives," said MacLean, a recovering drug user himself, on Friday.

"It makes me want to cry, it's just so amazing that we're finally caring about people that are vulnerable."

On Thursday, Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's medical officer of health, put out a statement talking about the benefits of a supervised injection site as part of a broader harm reduction strategy for drug users.

Ottawa may need 'more than 1' drug injection site, city's top doctor says

The City of Ottawa's top doctor says supervised drug injection sites "save lives," and said if the city chooses to welcome the facilities, it may need more than one.

"Safer, or supervised consumption sites are an unquestioned part of the spectrum of health services," said Dr. Isra Levy, the city's chief medical officer of health.

"Do we need one in Ottawa? We may need more than one."

"The issue that then becomes part of this conversation is, what about access? To get good access, we may want to be looking at things like mobile services, we may want to be looking at services in other, existing, health facilities."

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Ottawa must decide whether it wants a safe injection site: provincial health minister

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins has suggested he will only consider funding a supervised injection site for Ottawa if the project has municipal approval.

In a statement issued to Postmedia, Hoskins said decisions about supervised injection sites rest mostly with federal and municipal governments.

“I understand that such a proposal is currently being considered by the City of Ottawa,” he said. “Our government has been clear that we will consider a request for a safe injection site if a municipality were to come forward with a proposal.”

Asked to clarify whether the province would consider a proposal that came directly from a health centre, not a municipality, an official in Hoskins’s office said, “We’re not going to prejudge the outcomes of the municipal process.”

Hoskins said he hopes the federal government’s new openness to supervised injection sites will act as a catalyst, and bring political leaders together to address the issue.

Ottawa Citizen: Ottawa should have supervised injection sites

In a hallway in the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, there’s a memorial wall of photos and handwritten notes. “I miss your face,” reads one note. Another says: “My heart misses your heart.”

And then this, which should stop you cold: “In memory of everyone the system couldn’t help.”

Each year, an estimated 40 people die from drug overdoses in Ottawa, many from injection drug use. One way to help users who can’t shake their addiction is to monitor the injection at a supervised injection site. In the event of an overdose, there’s medical aid on site. Users might feel less rushed, which helps prevent overdose and infection. And more drug users would get access to clean needles, thereby reducing the spread of disease.

That same health centre whose little wall documents so much heartbreak proposes to open a safe, clean room where users can shoot up.

This sort of supervised injection site may not help everyone (there are up to 5,600 injection drug users in Ottawa.) But Ottawa needs to find a way to keep addicts alive long enough so they have a chance for proper treatment.

Ottawa supervised injection site consultations begin

In less than two years addicts in the city of Ottawa could have a safe, clean environment to do drugs.

A public consultation took place Monday at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre about a proposal to open the capital’s first supervised injection site at the community health centre. The intervention program has been applauded by many health care professionals as an effective method to reduce overdoses, while also reducing the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

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