Crowd calls for supervised injection site, more access to overdose antidote naloxone after Ottawa paramedics responded to 2,600 calls for overdoses last year.
It took three overdoses before Jennifer Bigelow got the help she needed.
A drug addict of 31 years, Bigelow started sniffing lines at 16, then turned to sex work to feed her drive for crack and needles. She woke up from that third scary overdose to her best friend breathing life into her body.
Forty-five pairs of shoes lined the Human Rights Monument on Elgin Street on Monday, representing the estimated number of people who died from drug overdoses in Ottawa last year.
In accordance with International Overdose Awareness Day, members of Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites and Drug Users Advocacy League called for supervised injection sites in Ottawa to prevent drug overdoses and to challenge what they say is the stigma faced by drug users.
The call for a safe injection site for drug users in Ottawa was renewed Monday.
It's International Overdose Awareness Day and members of the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites and Drug Users Advocacy League gathered at the Human Rights Monument to raise awareness about the issue.
Set on the monument were 45 pairs of shoes, one pair to represent each of the people who were estimated to have died from an overdose in Ottawa last year.
Ottawa paramedic Paul Morneau said that number just begins to scratch the surface.
A coalition of nurses and nursing students is hoping to put injection sites on the agenda during the federal election campaign.
The group called Nurses for Supervised Injection Services is encouraging others to vote for parties that support the creation of more sites throughout Canada.
The Conservative Party, which has fought Canada’s only supervised injection site for drug users in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, is the only one of the major parties that does not support the expansion of such sites. The Conservative government passed a law that supporters of the sites say creates barriers for communities opening injection sites similar to Vancouver’s.
Marilou Gagnon, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Ottawa, said nurses are generally supportive of supervised injection services because they “really understand why they are important and should be implemented.” There are more than 280,000 registered nurses in Canada.
On International Overdose Awareness Day, Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites and Drug Users Advocacy League will challenge Ottawa’s political leaders for their lack of action to prevent fatal drug overdoses. Community members will gather at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin Street on Aug. 31 from 11:30am-12:30pm to advocate for better overdose prevention and to challenge stigma.
When Mayor Jim Watson proclaimed Aug. 31 International Overdose Awareness Day in 2013, he recognized that Ottawa was losing one citizen every 11 days to drug overdose. This year the Mayor will be acknowledging a death every eight days in his city. The mayor has never attended International Overdose Awareness Day.
An estimated 45 people died from an overdose in Ottawa in 2014. At Insite, Canada’s first supervised injection site, not a single person has died on site from an overdose – and fatal overdoses in the vicinity of Insite have dropped by a third. Health-care professionals at SIS can intervene in overdoses immediately and encourage safer drug use outside of the facility.
Montreal and Toronto’s public health authorities are currently pursuing supervised injection services, while Ottawa Public Health has only recently recognized that they may be useful. Drug Users Advocacy League, an Ottawa collective of people who use drugs and their allies will be presenting consumer demands including SIS in Ottawa.
This year the Mayor’s proclamation states “We recognize the value of every human life and we honour those lost by discussing the harms associated with drug consumption, the risk of overdose and proven strategies to avoid preventable death and injury.” Hopefully Mayor Watson will live up to these words and recognize the significant evidence in support of SIS. If not, the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa will continue to raise awareness and prompt further local action.
On Monday August 31st at 11:30am, the Ottawa community will gather at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin Street to mark International Overdose Awareness Day and commemorate those who have been affected by overdose. Get more information by liking Overdose Awareness Day Ottawa on Facebook.
OD Day is a global event that aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.
Overdose Awareness Day spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable. The theme for 2015 is Rethink and Remember. Learn more here.
Supporters of supervised drug-injection sites, such as Vancouver’s Insite, are keeping a cautious eye on the federal election, as Stephen Harper vows to fight their expansion and questions their benefit as part of his government’s tough-on-drugs agenda.
The latest challenge, laid out by Mr. Harper during a campaign stop this week in a suburban Toronto riding, comes as Montreal prepares to become the second Canadian city to offer a medically supervised setting for injection drug users. It also comes as drug overdoses and deaths linked to fentanyl are making headlines and groups in Toronto and Ottawa continue to cautiously work to build support for future sites.
Mr. Harper brought up the topic during a policy announcement, saying NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau would welcome “heroin injection sites” into more neighbourhoods. The data are “very mixed” on safe injection sites, he said. He added that Canadians do not want them in their neighbourhood because such a site “flows the entire drug trade into that community.”
Both the Liberals and the New Democrats are in favour of safe injection sites, and a Supreme Court of Canada ruling said Insite saves lives.
Earlier today we released a statement about an alleged event that took place following this past week's Drug User Memorial in Ottawa in which some attendees were detained by police. In an effort to ensure we are presenting a full account, we've taken down the statement until we can confirm all of the facts of the situation.
The case remains that routine police sweeps of people who use drugs in Ottawa are an affront to human dignity and represent ineffective and harmful drug policies.