Somerset West Community Health Centre moves forward with injection site

 With no time to waste, Somerset West Community Health Centre is moving forward with its plan to offer a supervised injection site.

“Our current attempts at solving the drug crisis are not enough,” Stan Kupferschmidt, harm reduction outreach worker at the centre, said in a recent interview.

 “We felt we had to go ahead with this. We’ve lost far too many community members in just the last year.”

The health centre is moving forward with its plan to offer the service by applying for funding from the province and applying to the federal government for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to operate the site.

Consultations were held earlier this month and the feedback from recent meetings forms part of the document required so the health centre can be considered for the federal government exemption.

The health centre is proposing hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and time on weekends as well.

Kupferschmidt said clients would be triaged on arrival before moving into a room for the injection. There, a nurse and an outreach worker would supervise the injection and make sure the client is OK. Nurses don’t inject the client’s drugs, but can help to find veins.

Kupferschmidt said by having people come to the health centre for the service, it can act as a gateway for them to access other services and information.

“It’s been quite clear the level of support within the community,” he said of moving forward with the plan.

It’s part of a harm reduction strategy that aims to reduce the negative outcomes associated with drug use, including deaths from overdose, infections and more.

Ottawa Public Health estimates there are between 1,200-5,600 people in Ottawa who inject illicit drugs. There are about 48-drug-related deaths in the city each year and 40 are related directly to overdose.

Earlier this year, Ottawa’s drug crisis made headlines when teens in Kanata died from overdoses when opioids were found to be laced with fentanyl — a drug 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

According to the Somerset West Community Health Centre’s website, there are only two sites currently in Canada and both are located in Vancouver. Earlier this year, Health Canada approved new sites in Montreal.

A survey last summer polling more than 2,200 people indicated that in all of Ottawa, Somerset ward was the most supportive of offering harm reduction services in more areas across the city and 86 per cent of Somerset residents that responded felt having supervised injection services would be beneficial.

 Overall, about 60 per cent of people felt offering harm reduction services in more areas of the city would be beneficial and 66 per cent felt having supervised injection services available would be beneficial.

As Somerset West moves forward, it has been helped along by the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

“We’ve worked very closely with them and they’ve been integral to our working at a faster speed,” said Kupferschmidt.

While there’s no firm timeline for when the site could open, Kupferschmidt is hoping to have the paperwork completed by May.

“We needed to do this yesterday. Time is of the essence.”

Sandy Hill Health Centre submitted its exemption application on Feb. 1, around the same time the province announced funding for the site, said director Robert Boyd. They’re asking for $1.4 million to operate the site for 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Boyd’s personal target is to get the service up and running by the summer. They’ve been working on getting something in place since 2012.

“So much of it is out of our control. We would have opened already, if we had the choice,” Boyd said.

As overdoses in the city have climbed, he said it’s hard to sit by and wait, but in the meantime they are helping other institutions move forward with their own applications.

“We want to make sure that people in Somerset West who wouldn’t use our services have access to somewhere they’d use,” Boyd said.

“We want to see people have access across Ontario and Canada and are happy to support other communities.”

By Melissa Murray

Source: Ottawa Community News