Supervised injection sites represent 'patient-first' health care

Ottawa’s medical officer of health says a supervised injection service is the consummate example of health care that puts the needs of patients first.

Dr. Isra Levy told the Ottawa Board of Health on Monday that the harm reduction service fits squarely into the provincial government’s recently unveiled plan to build a patient-centred health care system in Ontario.

“I suggest that if ever there was a ready example of the need to put patients first, health first, this is the issue and this is the time,” said Levy, whose comments represent his most spirited defence to date of a supervised injection site in Ottawa. 

Levy said a proposal by the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre represents a “logical extension” of the addiction and counselling services it now offers drug users. Such sites, he said, should be part of any comprehensive and modern approach to drug treatment.

“These services are known to save lives and they offer many other positive impacts for addicted individuals, their loves ones and the community at large,” he said, adding: “I believe that what we and our partners and the other heath agencies have been doing to prevent addictions and to minimize their harms has not been enough.”

Many front-line clinicians, Levy said, are frustrated by their inability to better engage drug addicts not yet ready to commit to a full treatment regime. Most people fighting addiction, he noted, will suffer a series of false starts, and will likely require “considerable nudging,” before finally entering a detox program.

During a debate on Levy’s comments, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said he was concerned that the injection site model proposed for Ottawa is the same one used in Vancouver, which has a much different drug problem.

But Levy told Fleury that the models proposed for Ottawa and Toronto are, in fact, much different than Vancouver’s Insite program, which was built as a standalone facility. Levy said the supervised injection site in Ottawa would be “much more modest in its scope and its intent.”

The board of health later voted in favour of Fleury’s motion to obtain more information about drug users in Ottawa, including their overdose, death and disease rates. He requested information, too, about the number of beds available for addiction treatment and average wait times.

The board passed a second motion to examine supervised injection site models that exist elsewhere in the world, and their relative success rates. Levy was also asked to develop a plan for public consultations.

The issue is expected to return to the board in June.

The developments came as officials at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre again met with local residents to discuss their plan to open a supervised injection site. It was the third of four public consultation sessions planned for April.

In June, the health centre’s board of directors is expected to consider a detailed plan for the service. Preliminary estimates suggest the service, which will have room for as many as six injection drug users, would cost $250,000 to $300,000 a year to operate.

That money will have to come from the provincial government, but Health Minister Eric Hoskins has suggested he will only consider funding a supervised injection site if it has the support of local government. The project must also receive a federal government exemption, since it will operate outside of normal drug laws.

By Andrew Duffy
Source: Ottawa Citizen