Safe injection site close to reality in Ottawa

The push for Ottawa to get a controversial supervised injection site is gaining speed.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre on Wednesday said they are working to submit an application for an exemption from federal drug laws in order to open a "safer consumption site."

"We think we could do more for people in the community and drug users themselves," said Rob Boyd, director of the Oasis program at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

"We feel it's important to move forward."

Supporters lauded the move by Toronto Public Health, who have called for a supervised injection site in their city, as well as criticized proposed legislation, Bill C-65, that would make it tougher to do so, as "a major step in the ongoing battle to provide services to those who most need it."

Boyd said they have received strong community support, and have spent the past year gathering local evidence to support an injection site in the city.

Ottawa has the highest rate of HIV amongst drug users in the province, according to SHCHC, with areas in the city with open drug use and many discarded needles. These are all issues proponents believe could be helped with such a site, which has sterile equipment to lessen disease and can connect addicts with help. There are more overdose deaths per year here than from car crashes, their research suggests.

Critics have argued such sites raise community safety issues, including encouraging drug use and crime.

As Toronto's report was brought for consideration to its board of health this week, supporters want Ottawa Public Health to follow that lead, and help in the push for a supervised injection site.

But public health officials said Wednesday while they're monitoring discussions around the topic, they're focused on a four-pillar approach -- prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction -- that at this time, does not include any plans for a supervised injection site.

"We're not trying to establish one right now," said Vera Etches, associate medical officer of health.

Former IV drug user Sean LeBlanc, 40, said he "lucked into the support" that helped him get off the streets, when a frontline outreach worker crossed his path.

Had a supervised injection site been around, LeBlanc believes he would have turned to it and been exposed to support a lot sooner.

LeBlanc is now part of the Drug Users Advocacy League, which will also partner on the application, which is expected to be submitted this fall.

By Danielle Bell
Source: Ottawa Sun