Feds approve Ottawa's first supervised injection site

The first supervised injection site in the nation’s capital could be open within months now that the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre has a conditional approval from Health Canada.

The federal government signed off on the health centre’s application Wednesday after receiving the request for an injection site last January.

Once a follow-up inspection is done and provincial money comes through, clients will enter one of five injection stations on the first floor of the health centre’s facility on Nelson Street and shoot his or her drugs under the supervision of health experts.

Rob Boyd, director of the harm-reduction program at the centre, said staff can now focus on renovations for the injection room and work with the province on funding.

He wants to have the injection site up and running as soon as possible, but he expects it won’t be until October that the service is ready.

“For many of our clients, this is a difference between life and death,” Boyd said. “This is going to make a huge positive impact.”

David Gibson, executive director of the centre, said it has been five years in the making for the facility.

“It’s a great accomplishment and it speaks mountains of the partnerships with public health, (medical officer of health) Dr. Isra Levy, and all the partners that we have that have stepped up, and more importantly the people that we serve and who have been asking for this way before the five years started,” he said.

There are still high-profile skeptics.

Mayor Jim Watson continues to rely on the Ottawa Public Health board to steer the issue.

“I have not been a supporter of supervised injection sites, as I would rather see scarce health dollars invested into treatment facilities, so that we may help those who struggle with addictions,” Watson said in a written statement Wednesday.

“I am also concerned about the potential of increased criminal activity near these sites. However, we gave responsibility for these health decisions to our public health board, who has supported Sandy Hill’s request for a supervised consumption site. I very much hope that my concerns are not realized and these citizens do get the help they need to overcome their challenging addictions.”

Last year, the health board voted 9-2 in support of the harm-reduction program.

Health Canada is considering two more applications for supervised injection sites in Ottawa.

Ottawa Inner City Health wants to start an injection site at the Shepherds of Good Hope on King Edward Avenue. The Somerset West Community Health Centre on Eccles Street also applied for an injection site. Those applications are still listed as incomplete by Health Canada.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is the 15th supervised consumption site granted a federal exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The health centre’s exemption comes with an expiry date: July 30, 2018. There’s a renewal process for approved sites.

The city has been making available weekly statistics on suspected overdoses recorded at emergency rooms. In the week ending last Monday, there were 26 cases. The number hasn’t been below 18 so far in 2017. The highest weekly count for the year is 42 during the week ending June 26.

The weekly average since the end of November 2015 has been 23 suspected overdoses.

The weekly average since the end of November 2015 has been 23 suspected overdoses.

The Ottawa Police Service has expressed concern about security at a supervised injection site. Management on Wednesday still wasn’t satisfied.

Acting Deputy Chief Chris Rheaume said police are still waiting to see an operations plan from the health centre.

“We have to work together. We have to try and make it work,” Rheaume said.

“It’s goes back to the whole safety thing.”

Rheaume said it’s yet to be seen what kind of police resources will be required around the Sandy Hill injection site and future ones in Ottawa.

“The more these sites pop up, the more resources and safety plans you need to have in place,” he said.

By Jon Willing
Source: Ottawa Citizen