Somerset West to be first supervised injection site outside of downtown core

Somerset West Community Health Centre has received permission to open what will become the city’s first supervised injection site outside of the downtown core.

The centre, located on Eccles Street in Chinatown, said Monday that Health Canada has granted it an exemption from federal drug laws that will allow the site to legally open, although renovation work still has to be done. No opening date has been set.

The news comes as overdose deaths in the area are spiking. There have been four fatal overdoses in the past two weeks among people connected with services provided in the Somerset ward, said executive director Naini Cloutier. In 2015, there were 48 unintentional drug overdose deaths across the city.

“We are glad that things are moving fast. The opioid crisis is something that is impacting the whole community,” said Cloutier. “We hope to save lives and reduce risk factors.”

Somerset ward, according to Ottawa Public Health, had the second highest rate of emergency room visits in the city related to unintentional drug overdoses between 2013 and 2015. It also had the second highest number of injection drug users diagnosed with HIV or hepatitis C between 2011 and 2014 in the city.

A spokesperson for the community centre said clients say they frequently use drugs in public washrooms, alleys, parks or doorways.

“The lack of a safe space to inject drugs in the Somerset ward has resulted in a tragic increase in opioid overdose incidents, deaths and community trauma experienced by residents and our clients.”

Cloutier added: “A supervised injection service is essential, because members of our community are dying. They are our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.”

Ottawa currently has two supervised injection sites operating in Lowertown — one in a trailer at the Shepherds of Good Hope and a second in an Ottawa Public Health site on Clarence Street. The largest one, planned for the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, was expected to open this fall, but construction and funding have delayed it.

Somerset West has offered harm reduction services for 20 years, including crack pipes and new injection supplies.

Those who use the supervised injection site will also receive help finding food, housing and other basic needs, social support and health services.

The new supervised injection site, when it opens, will include six booths and be open 12 hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Cloutier said the centre expects to have 140 injections over that 12-hour period.

The opioid crisis has been steadily worsening since the centre applied to the federal government for an exemption that would allow it to open a supervised injection site on its premises.

The area, in west Centretown, is home to a substantial number of rooming houses and the health centre serves a large community of injection drug users.

“We know the opioid crisis is not just in downtown, but a crisis in the whole community,” said Cloutier.

By Elizabeth Payne
Source: Ottawa Citizen