Ottawa-based group Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites reacts to the Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment

Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa (CSCS) welcomes the final report of the TOSCA study as a critical piece of research looking at potential responses to the issues of substance use in our community. We would first like to thank the researchers and community members in Ottawa and Toronto who put the work into this very important study.

CSCS supports the majority of the report’s recommendations. We firmly believe that Ottawa would benefit in many tangible ways from multiple supervised injection sites in the city. First, preventing new HIV and hepatitis C infections, as well as reconnecting marginalized populations with social and health services, would have substantial cost-savings benefits for the Ottawa health system. Second, evidence looking at the opening of Vancouver’s Insite facility in 2003 was associated with a 35% reduction in overdose deaths in the surrounding neighbourhood. In short, these facilities save lives. Third, supervised injection sites provide opportunities to support people who want to reduce or stop their substance use. Additionally, supervised injection sites help reduce public drug use and related disorder, including discarded used drug equipment.

CSCS does not however agree with the recommendation that there is insufficient evidence to support the implementation of supervised smoking facilities. We respect the desire to move cautiously, and we agree that more research into different models is necessary in order to develop an Ottawa model. Yet we strongly believe that the available evidence points to the need for supervised smoking site to respond to unique needs in our city. Studies indicate that in Ottawa the main drug injected is crack or cocaine. Injecting crack is a riskier practice than smoking it, and the Safer Inhalation Program in Ottawa has encouraged some people to shift to smoking instead of injecting. If there is a place to inject but not to smoke, there is a concern that people will favour a riskier practice in order to access the sites. The TOSCA study notes that the people most likely to use a supervised smoking facility are especially vulnerable to blood-borne infections and social stigmatization.

CSCS continues to call for safer consumption sites that respond to the unique needs of the Ottawa community. We believe this includes a facility for safer injection drug use, and safer smoking. We do not expect that supervised consumption sites will be a silver bullet to the challenges our community faces. Instead the implementation will help modernize Ottawa’s response to the issue of problematic drug use, by helping to provide a spectrum of responses and services. The TOSCA study is another piece of evidence that demonstrates we must move past talking about ‘if’ supervised consumption sites will benefit Ottawa, and start talking exclusively about ‘how’.

Read the full TOSCA report here (pdf)