City's first permanent supervised injection site opens at Sandy Hill Community Health Centre

The room is spotless, the tabletops gleaming of polished stainless steel that matches the sleek, stylish desk lamp. At each of the five booths, a round cosmetics mirror is affixed to an adjustable arm.

“We wanted these mirrors here in case people wanted to do some neck injections,” says Rob Boyd, director of harm reduction at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, site of Ottawa’s first permanent supervised injection site.

“We don’t encourage people to do that — it’s a very dangerous place to inject. You slip up and you could be paralyzed. But we’re not going to turn people away from here because of it. If it’s going to happen, it’s better that it happens here.”

Seven years after it began lobbying for a supervised injections site in Ottawa, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre accepted its first clients on Monday, hours after getting the official go-ahead from Health Canada. The site was to have opened last October, but delays in getting final approval and provincial funding for renovations pushed the opening back six months.

“I don’t feel like celebrating — that’s the wrong mood — because we are seeing an escalation in overdoses and escalation in overdose deaths,” Boyd said. “Relieved is the word. We just need to get in there and do our part.”

Opioid overdoses on decline in Ottawa

Six months after a spike in opioid overdoses raised alarms across the city, the numbers are down. But Ottawa Public Health says it is too soon to claim any victories in the opioid crisis.

According to preliminary public health statistics, drug-related emergency room visits have dipped from more than 40 a week in September to closer to 25 a week in late January. Monthly opioid overdose emergency room visits have steadily declined since last summer.

OPH and service agencies rallied last summer after rising rates of overdoses and deaths related to opioid use in the city and the introduction of fentanyl into the drug supply.

In late summer, a group called Overdose Prevention Ottawa set up a pop-up supervised injection site in a tent located in a Lowertown park in response to the opioid crisis.

OPH subsequently opened a small, supervised injection site in offices in the ByWard Market. The Shepherds of Good Hope set up another approved supervised injection site in a trailer next to its shelter on King Edward Avenue.

Ottawa Public Health looks to expand Clarence Street injection site

An Ottawa Public Health staff report is recommending that the Clarence Street supervised injection site be made permanent and turned into a supervised consumption centre, where people would be able to ingest drugs in ways that aren't just intravenous. 

The Lowertown site opened in September 2017 after authorization from Health Canada. Between the day it opened and Jan. 22, 2018, 174 people made use of the site, with the total number of visits sitting at 2,714, according to the report, which was tabled Monday in advance of the Ottawa Board of Health's next meeting on Monday, Feb. 5.

Eighty-five per cent of clients used services such as counselling and health education, according to the report. Medical intervention was only required in 19 cases — 0.7 per cent of the total visits.

Feedback from clients and staff at the site has been overwhelmingly positive, said Andrew Hendriks, director of health protection at OPH. 

"What we heard from clients was that the service makes a difference for them," Hendriks said. "A large number of people say they're less likely to inject in public [and] they're less likely to inject alone because of the services that we're providing." 

High demand for naloxone training at Centretown session

It took three rooms to accommodate nearly 60 people who attended a free naloxone training session in Centretown organized by a community health organization for gay men.

Max Ottawa, which focuses on holistic health programs for men who have sex with men, had been anticipating a small session of about 20 people, but said the response was overwhelming.

"There's a concern we have that [opioid overdoses] can happen to anyone in our network: our friends, ourselves, our sex partners," said executive director Roberto Ortiz.

"This is the responsibility of all of us to take care of each other. So we're super happy to know that there are so many people that want to be ready in case something happens."

Participation was not limited to gay men and included a broad range of people. Each took home a naloxone kit at the end of the training session, where they were shown how to use the syringe and nasal spray.

Activists say death following presumed overdose at health centre highlights need for more supervised sites

A young woman collapsed in a bathroom at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre earlier this week and died in hospital from what’s presumed to be a drug overdose.

The death happened Monday as the health centre continued its years-long wait to open a supervised injection site.

“We know that had this overdose happened in a supervised environment, they would have survived,” said Rob Boyd, director of the health centre’s harm reduction program.

The woman, who has not been identified, collapsed around 3 p.m. Monday in the centre’s public bathroom. As soon as she was discovered, she was given the overdose antidote, Naloxone, and administered oxygen by medical staff.

Here's why it's time to legalize all drugs in Canada

Picture this: You’re an injection drug user, and, you’re worried the next time you use, you might die. So, you head for the Shepherds of Good Hope, where there’s a special trailer. There, you can use your drugs – and someone will save you if you overdose.

Upon arrival, though, there’s a police cruiser outside. Apparently it’s there a lot, at least according to Ottawa Inner City Health, which runs the injection site, and officers are questioning staff and clients.

And so you turn around. You take your chances injecting elsewhere, to avoid being harassed by police. Maybe you’ll overdose and there will be nobody to save you. So it goes.

With between 130 and 170 people actually using the injection trailer daily, it’s got to be asked: How many are not showing up because they’re afraid of the police?

Since Ottawa’s mayor and police chief had both been openly hostile toward the idea before recently softening their views, it’s no surprise those tasked with enforcing the laws may not have, after years of hearing one thing, quite come ’round to the virtues of addicts having a safe environment in which to inject their drugs. (On Tuesday, the chief disputed this characterization of his position in a statement to the Citizen.)

And yet, this situation is a dangerous one. If injection sites are providing lifesaving medical care — and they are — then anything that keeps people away risks indirectly causing death. 

This isn’t actually complicated. It’s worrisome if local cops can’t follow along. 

And so, a solution: It’s time that drugs — all drugs — are decriminalized, then legalized and sold like alcohol or tobacco or (soon) marijuana. Decriminalization would remove criminal penalties for drug use — legalization would allow regulated use and sale. 

Ottawa supervised injection trailer squeezed by extreme cold and fire damage

The supervised injection service that operates in a trailer next to the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter is struggling to meet client demand due to the extreme cold and a loss of space because of recent fire damage at the shelter.

The 40-foot construction trailer with fogged up windows and a narrow entrance is the only supervised injection site in Ottawa that operates overnight.

It has far exceeded the expected flow of 50 clients a day, according to Anne Marie Hopkins, supervisor of the peer outreach program at Ottawa Inner City Health, which operates the supervised-injection service.

"With three staff working and even with a handful of clients, it's tight in there," Hopkins said. "We're putting through 150 [to] 170 people a day in that small trailer so we have to move people along, but it's really hard when it's so cold out. They're freezing."

Provincial funding to help Somerset West health centre open injection site in new year

The Somerset West Community Health Centre now has everything it needs to open a supervised drug-injection site in the new year, with money from the provincial government to prepare the space and pay staff to operate it.

Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi and Ottawa South’s John Fraser went to the centre on Eccles Street on Friday afternoon and promised $220,000 immediately to pay for renovations to a room on the first floor. Somerset West will get an additional $1 million a year to run the injection site, which is to have six spots for drug users to inject and a room next door for them to stay in afterward to make sure they haven’t overdosed.

Somerset West executive director Naini Cloutier was coy about exactly when her site might open. The date depends on how quickly the centre can get final plans done, a building permit approved, contractors to do the job and staff chosen to run it, but the target is the end of January. They’ll have to knock down a wall, modify the ventilation system and plumb for foot-wash stations, she said (some users seek veins in their feet).

“We did not expect that we would move so fast and we have, so I’m quite optimistic that we’ll be able to open in the next few months,” she said. “We’re working as hard as we can.”

Ontario sees 68 percent spike in opioid overdose deaths this year

Ontario saw a 68 percent spike in opioid-related deaths this year, the provincial health minister and coroner announced on Thursday.

The government data shows that 336 opioid overdose deaths occurred in the nation’s most populous province from May to July of this year, a significant jump from 201 deaths during the same time last year.

Opioid-related emergency room visits have also soared 29 percent over the last year, the province said, with more than 2,449 such visits occurring from July to September, compared to 1,896 during the prior three months.

“New data shows the urgent need for action,” the government said in a news release, adding that more fire and police services will be equipped with naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote.

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins also said he “formally requested” that the federal government allow Ontario to approve and fund overdose prevention sites, although it was unclear if those sites would just be for injection services or include safe spaces for smoking drugs.

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.”


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