Ottawa health unit wants funds for a roving supervised injection van

Ottawa Public Health is asking city hall for money to buy a van that could operate as a mobile overdose prevention unit, beefing up the health unit’s efforts to prevent deaths and reduce the spread of disease.

The health unit wants the city to buy a 3/4-ton van for $150,000 with hopes that the province will pay for the purchase and the vehicle’s retrofit.

The van would provide “a mobile overdose prevention service that can be positioned in high risk areas,” the city says.

The request is contained in a fleet report produced by the city’s corporate services department, scheduled to be discussed during a transportation committee meeting on Wednesday.

The health unit already has a van that supports its Site program, which distributes clean needles and inhalation equipment, condoms and health promotion and education information. The van is on the road each night.

In an e-mailed response to the Citizen, the health unit said the request to purchase an additional van is part of a “more permanent solution for enhancing OPH’s harm reduction services” through supervised injection sites, either at fixed locations or through mobile services.

A mobile supervised injection site would still need the appropriate legislative approvals and have funding, the health unit said.

Health Canada has approved two mobile consumption sites in Kelowna, B.C. and one in Montreal.

The Ontario government announced in August it would provide more than $222 million over three years through an opioid addiction and overdose program.

In Ottawa, the local health unit is acting fast to increase supervised injection services since it has become the most pressing public health issue in the city.

Isra Levy, the city’s medical officer of health, has backed the idea of launching a mobile supervised injection service.

“I’ve always believed mobile services are the best services to reach people where they are geographically in a community,” Levy said after the most recent health board meeting on Sept. 18, when board members approved opening a temporary supervised injection site on Clarence Street.

“We ourselves in Ottawa Public Health offer mobile services in terms of needle distribution, so for me it’s a fairly logical thought process that we need to go to where people are,” Levy said. “We’re talking about people who are in circumstances in a stage of their lives sometimes where 50 or 100 feet is something they’re not going to necessarily do. From a service provider point of view, I work with nurses to try to reach people wherever they are, whether they need immunizations, if they need support for prevention or treatment of TB (tuberculosis) or meningitis, or whether there are people who use drugs and need support for whatever they need from the medical system. We’ll go to them, we’ll go to you. That’s the work we do.”

The health board directed Levy to bring a report to the first meeting of 2018 to explain how the Clarence Street injection site worked out over the first 60 days of operation.

The board also wants to hear any recommendations to have permanent supervised injection services in Ottawa, either at one place or through a mobile setup.

Mayor Jim Watson said this week he would accept Levy’s advice on how to proceed with supervised injection services in Ottawa.

The temporary injection site at the health unit’s Clarence Street clinic opened Tuesday. It’s designed to provide the harm-reduction service until the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is ready to launch its licensed injection site later this fall.

But if more provincial funding is available, the health unit could continue running the Clarence Street site through the winter since Health Canada’s approval doesn’t expire until March 31, 2018.

The health unit predicts the new overdose prevention van would cost $40,100 to operate each year, but that estimate doesn’t include the costs for outfitting it with a supervised injection service. The annual budget still needs to be determined based on the operating hours and staffing requirements, the health unit said.

By Jon Willing
Source: Ottawa Citizen