Ottawa Public Health looks to expand Clarence Street injection site

An Ottawa Public Health staff report is recommending that the Clarence Street supervised injection site be made permanent and turned into a supervised consumption centre, where people would be able to ingest drugs in ways that aren't just intravenous. 

The Lowertown site opened in September 2017 after authorization from Health Canada. Between the day it opened and Jan. 22, 2018, 174 people made use of the site, with the total number of visits sitting at 2,714, according to the report, which was tabled Monday in advance of the Ottawa Board of Health's next meeting on Monday, Feb. 5.

Eighty-five per cent of clients used services such as counselling and health education, according to the report. Medical intervention was only required in 19 cases — 0.7 per cent of the total visits.

Feedback from clients and staff at the site has been overwhelmingly positive, said Andrew Hendriks, director of health protection at OPH. 

"What we heard from clients was that the service makes a difference for them," Hendriks said. "A large number of people say they're less likely to inject in public [and] they're less likely to inject alone because of the services that we're providing." 

If the site is given the green light to become permanent, OPH will seek approval from Health Canada to add new services and will work with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to apply for funding, Hendriks said. 

Hendriks said it currently costs around $75,000 a month to operate the Clarence Street site. 

"That's predominantly staff costs to have nurses and outreach workers and people with lived experiences in the facility," he said.

The only other legal supervised injection site currently operating in the city is at the Shepherds of Good Hope Shelter at 256 King Edward Ave.

A site at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre was supposed to open in October, but was delayed while waiting for provincial funding. 

A fourth site at the Somerset West Community Health Centre in Chinatown has been approved, but an opening date hasn't been announced.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa ran an unsanctioned supervised consumption site at Rafael Brunet Park last fall, but they never received an exemption from Health Canada to operate and closed in November when temperatures dropped well below zero.  

After hearing from people using the facility, OPH is now suggesting of the possibility of a wider supervised consumption site, Hendriks said.

A consumption site, as opposed to an injection site, would provide a supervised environment for people to use drugs both intravenously and in other ways, such as ingesting them nasally or orally.  

Services offered would include safe drug use education, overdose prevention, counselling services, and referrals to treatment and other support services, the report said. 

In order to go from an injection site to a consumption site, the OPH report proposes making minor renovations to their current facilities.

These proposed upgrades include adding three more booths and an "after-care" area, where clients can speak to nurses and social workers about treatment and counselling, Hendriks said.

The current facility offers two injection booths.

City counsellor Mathieu Fleury, who represents the Rideau-Vanier Ward, said he supports expanding the services offered at the site.

"It's an entry point into treatment and at the same time it removes the pressures from communities," he said. "We're seeing less [drug] use in our community."

Source: CBC News