Province supports new Inner City Health supervised injection site

Ottawa’s largest permanent supervised injection site could be open in a Lowertown trailer as soon as this weekend.

The trailer, to be operated by Ottawa Inner City Health and located outside Shepherds of Good Hope on Murray Street, will be open 24/7 and serve a population of between 100 and 150 injection drug users, said Inner City Health executive director Wendy Muckle.

Ontario’s Health Minister Eric Hoskins has endorsed the site in a letter to federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, his office said Monday.

“Inner City Health has proposed to expand existing community outreach work to support those most at risk of overdose and connect people with vital health care supports, including substance use treatment and counseling,” Hoskins said in a statement.

Rideau-Vanier, he noted, has the highest geographical proportion of people who use drugs in Ottawa “by a large degree.”

Hoskins noted that 40 residents died in Ottawa in 2016 from opioid overdoses.

“Any loss of life as a result of an opioid overdose is a needless, preventable tragedy,” he said.

The renovated 11-by-44-foot trailer that will become the city’s newest supervised injection site will include eight injection booths, as well as a lounge area with a television and video games where people can stay after they have injected, said Muckle.

The “clubhouse model” of a supervised injection site is unusual, said Muckle. “Most don’t have a recreation area,” she said. “We would like them to hang out for awhile.”

Inner City Health is waiting for its formal exemption from Health Canada. Muckle said Ontario’s support was the last piece of the application for an exemption from federal drug laws that would allow the site to operate legally. She said she hopes it will come by the end of the week. The trailer should be ready by mid-week.

Once it opens, the trailer will become the second approved site in Ottawa. Last month, Ottawa Public Health opened a small supervised injection site on Clarence Street which is open in the evening and has two injection booths.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is renovating a space for another permanent supervised injection site, expected to open by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, an unsanctioned pop-up injection site located in a Lowertown park has had 2,868 visits since it opened in August, 67 days ago. More than 100 people visited the site over the weekend before rainy and windy weather forced it to close for two nights. Run by volunteers, it operates without an exemption from Health Canada.

Muckle said there have been discussions between Inner City Health and the volunteers who run the pop-up site about helping people to transition to the trailer run by Inner City Health.

Volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa, who run the pop-up site, have said they will keep it running until it is no longer needed.

Ottawa’s overdose crisis escalated rapidly during 2017, starting with several high profile overdoses early in the year.

In August, overdose prevention workers at Inner City Health and Shepherds assisted with 45 overdoses. In September, that number increased to 75.

Muckle said there were fewer overdoses in October, largely because of urgent practices put in place, including the hiring of peer support workers, frequent bed checks and closer monitoring.

She calls it the “ICU model” of overdose prevention, something that is difficult to maintain.

“We just have to get everybody through until the trailer opens.”

She said the new supervised injection site should make a difference, but it is not a solution to the crisis.

“It won’t be the be-all and the end-all. It is one thing we need to get into place but it is not the long game.”

By Elizabeth Payne
Source: Ottawa Citizen