Downtown Ottawa councillor welcomes safe injection site

An Ottawa councillor says he welcomes a safe injection site downtown – but only if there are similar services across the city.

On Monday, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, and five other councillors on the board of health, will debate a staff report that recommends opening a supervised injection site in the city.

Given that the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre has already consulted on its plan to provide such a service, a safe injection site will likely go in his ward.

“I can support a model that is holistic, that makes sense, that supports a drug user in their community, and if that means they’re in my community, for sure,” said Fleury.

“But I don’t want drug users from across the city to come to our location.”

In the report, medical officer of health Dr. Isra Levy says safe injection sites are an “effective, well-researched and evidence-based treatment option that have a place in any comprehensive approach to working with people who inject drugs.”

Apart from introducing the service, he’s recommending the city expand on existing harm reduction programs and hold public consultations in the late summer and fall.

According to the report, the Ottawa Public Health (OPH) mobile van unit responded to more than 900 drug-related calls in Rideau-Vanier in 2015. That’s almost one-third of all calls.

But it’s not the only ward that has seen overdoes issues. OPH responded to a call in every ward at least once last year. Somerset and River wards each had over 400 visits.

Mayor Jim Watson has long maintained that he would rather see the focus on addiction treatment, rather than introducing a safe injection site in Ottawa.

Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau has also expressed opposition to the model and said he has yet to be presented with a plan that would address public safety concerns about introducing such a site to the neighbourhood.

Vancouver was the first North American city to open a government-approved supervised injection site in 2003. Vancouver Coastal Health recently announced a plan to open five more.

Meanwhile, the Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment study recommends two safe injection sites in the city.

Ottawa’s drug use breakdown, according to the report:

  • 70 per cent of people who inject drugs have hepatitis C, compared to 0.35 per cent of the general population.
  • 10 per cent of injection drug users are HIV positive, compared to 0.71 per cent of the general population.
  • According to the 2014 Harm Reduction Needs Assessment, 25 per cent of surveyed injection drug users said they always or usually injected in a public space in the previous six months.
  • 74 per cent of the 215 people surveyed said they would use a safe injection site in Ottawa.
  • According to a Forum Research poll, 54 per cent of Ottawa residents are in favour of a supervised injection site, while 37 per cent are against the idea.
  • In 2014, 13.9 per cent of people who injected drugs said they used a previously-used syringe.
  • 71,000 people in Ottawa have an opioid prescription.
  • Not including cannabis, anywhere from 23,600 to 46,900 people in Ottawa use illicit drugs or opioids for non-medical purposes.

By Lucy Scholey
Source: Metro Ottawa