Overdose prevention groups urge health minister to declare emergency

Volunteer-run overdose prevention sites in Ottawa and Toronto are calling on Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins to declare a public health emergency over the current opioid crisis, just like the province did at the height of the SARS crisis in 2003.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa and the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society are also asking the province to enact a ministerial order to support the creation of such pop-up sites.

"An emergency declaration and ministerial order will expedite overdose prevention measures on an emergency basis," the groups said in a joint news release Thursday. "Overdose prevention sites, among other measures, are desperately needed in Ontario municipalities."

The sites — one in Ottawa's Raphael Brunet Park and one in Toronto's Moss Park — are currently illegal, but have so far been tolerated so far by their municipalities.

The Ottawa site opened Aug. 25 when harm reduction advocates pitched tents in the Lowertown park. Since then, they said they've received more than 1,100 visits.

Toronto's site, established Aug. 12, has seen more than 1,300 visits. Organizers of both sites say they've been able to intervene in multiple overdoses.

City leaders showing little will to move in on illegal injection tent

Ottawa's mayor, police chief and the city councillor for Rideau-Vanier all say they want the illegal supervised drug injection site operating out of tents in a Lowertown park shut down — but none of them seems to want to take responsibility for making that happen.

Now that a city-run supervised injection site is operating out of an Ottawa Public Health clinic on Clarence Street, Mayor Jim Watson wants the tent site, which is run by volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa, to fold.

"The reality is that we have a legitimate, federally approved, provincially funded, city-operated facility that is safe, that is secure, that is clean, that is run by health professionals, and it's in an appropriate location," Watson told reporters after Wednesday's council meeting.

Safe injection tent stays put after city-run site opens

Organizers of a pop-up supervised injection site plan to keep their location open, despite a threat of police involvement from the area's councillor.

The pop-up site run by volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa operates in Raphael Brunet Park, two blocks away from the city's only sanctioned safe injection site at 179 Clarence St., which opened its doors for the first time Tuesday.

"We're here. We're not going anywhere," said Catherine Hacksel, an organizer with Overdose Prevention Ottawa and a volunteer at the pop-up site. Despite the close proximity of the two sites, she doesn't see them as competitors.

In fact, the pop-up site has boosted the number of volunteers to let drug users who come to their tent know about the city's site because they're likely not aware it exists, she said.

"A lot of folks who access [the tent] space are not going to be staying on top of these things right away. Why we're referring people to the service is we want to get their feedback and we want to encourage them to access new services in the community."

Supervised injection sites offer hope, not just drugs

I can’t believe there is resistance to providing safe injection sites.

I think people have forgotten – or perhaps never considered – that addicts are people. Someone’s daughter, son, brother, sister, cousin, mother, father. Someone who once had hopes and dreams for themselves. Hopes and dreams that got lost in the morass of dependency on drugs. Someone for whom many other people had great hopes and dreams as well. Our job as citizens is to try to ensure that they live to fulfil their dreams.

Individuals who habitually use drugs are not throwaway people. They are real people caught up in the horror of addiction. All along, they have suffered accidental deaths from overdoses. But these days, drug addiction carries with it the real and present danger of dying due to an overdose of unknown quantities of the potent drug, fentanyl, laced into other drugs of choice, or even straight fentanyl.

Safe injection sites have come to Ottawa despite politicians, not because of them

At the start of 2016, it seemed doubtful Ottawa would ever get a supervised drug injection site.

Mayor Jim Watson adamantly opposed the idea. Police Chief Charles Bordeleau had never been on board, citing public safety concerns. Coun. Shad Qadri, who chairs Ottawa's board of health, was no fan either.

Now the city's on the verge of having three injection sites, maybe four.

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, Ottawa's first sanctioned consumption site will open its doors. Next month a more permanent site is set to open at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

Somerset West Community Health Centre and Ottawa Inner City Health, located at the Shepherds of Good Hope, have applied for federal exemptions to open supervised injection sites. Meanwhile Overdose Prevention Ottawa is already operating an illegal yet well-attended tent offering a similar service to drug users, and appears to have little intention of decamping.

It's a dramatic shift in public health policy that happened without — or maybe in spite of — political leadership.

Ottawa's first legal supervised injection site to open amid growing crisis

After years of debate and planning, Ottawa’s first legal supervised injection site prepared to open its doors on in the ByWard Market on Tuesday amid a growing opioid crisis.

Even before the interim site run by Ottawa Public Health saw its first client, though, concerns were being raised that its services would be inadequate to meet the need.

The supervised injection site, which is meant to fill the gap until a permanent site opens in Sandy Hill later this fall, was hurriedly opened by Ottawa Public Health in response to escalating numbers of overdoses in the city in recent months, in part, due to the introduction of fentanyl into the drug supply.

The interim site is also a response to a pop-up site opened — without legal exemption — in August in a Lowertown park. That site, run by the volunteer group Overdose Prevention Ottawa, has had more than 1,000 visits since it opened on Aug. 25.

In a statement Monday, OPO called the Clarence Street site “a step in the right direction” but said it would continue to offer services at 307 Patrick St. from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“In the midst of (Tuesday)’s opening of Ottawa Public Health’s interim Clarence Street supervised injection site, and after taking lengthy consideration of what our guests have told us, it is clear that our work is not over.”

Interim supervised injection site to open Tuesday

The precursor to Ottawa's first permanent supervised safe injection site will open its doors to clients on Tuesday, Sept. 26. But it's not clear the nearby tent offering support to drug users will shut down.

The interim supervised drug injection site will be located at the Ottawa Public Health office on Clarence Street. For years, many in the medical community have pressed for a drug consumption site, citing growing rates of drug overdoses in the city.

The interim site on Clarence Street will be open 7 days a week, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

A pop-up overdose prevention site in Lowertown's Raphael Brunet Park has been operating since Aug. 25. The site offers space for people to use drugs under supervision and is staffed by volunteers with healthcare experience and experts in working with people who use drugs.

More than 900 people have visited the tent.

The pop-up site has faced growing opposition from neighbours unhappy with its location near their homes.

The site was not sanctioned by Health Canada and volunteers acknowledged the risk that it could be shut down. But they said the need for an injection site was urgent and could not wait for government approval.

CSCS supports Overdose Prevention Ottawa's life-saving initiative

The Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa was formed in 2011 to advocate for evidence-based, compassionate responses to problematic drug use that focus on reducing harm and fostering healthier and safer communities for all.

The recent establishment of the city’s first pop-up overdose prevention site by Overdose Prevention Ottawa is the realization of one of our campaign’s founding goals. By offering a low-barrier, non-judgemental space for people to use drugs under supervision, OPO have taken urgent action to confront a growing health crisis.

The members of CSCSO extend our full support to OPO’s organizers and volunteers. We’re pleased to announce our donation of $1000 to aid Overdose Prevention Ottawa in their ongoing work to provide life-saving harm reduction services.

We commend OPO for responding to an overdose epidemic which has decimated communities in Western Canada and shows no signs of slowing down in Ontario. Their bold actions stand in sharp contrast to our current societal response to drug use, which is unnecessarily punitive, cruel, and expensive, in both tax dollars and in the cost to human lives.

Over the past 6 years, CSCSO have been honoured to be the recipients of funding and donations from individuals and groups including OPIRG-Ottawa, the Carleton University Graduate Association, and Promdemonium. We trust that our supporters will agree that there is no better use for these funds than in support of a peer-centered service that promotes the health and dignity of vulnerable people in our community.

OPO relies on the generosity of donors to keep their overdose prevention site running. We urge you to give what you can so that this essential health care initiative can continue, whether it be financial aid, snacks and drinks for their guests, or meals for their volunteers.

Please join us in voicing your support for Overdose Prevention Ottawa and evidence-based health policy to Mayor Jim Watson, the Chief of Police, and your City Councillor. Let them know that people who use drugs are our neighbours, family, and friends, and that their lives and safety are important and valued.

To learn more about Overdose Prevention Ottawa’s important work, connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

Towards a safer and healthier Ottawa,
The Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa

Overdose Prevention Ottawa supporters

Overdose rates are continuing to rise in Ottawa

The overdose crisis is hitting Ottawa just as hard as the rest of the province.

Newly released data from the province shows that emergency room visits for suspected opioid overdoses in Ottawa between January and February rose 36.5 per cent in 2017 compared to the previous year.

The numbers track closely to overall provincial numbers, which reflect an increase slightly north of 37 per cent during that period.

According to provincial data, 71 people were brought to the emergency room with confirmed opioid-related overdoses in three months, compared to 52 the previous year.

‘All the rest is just noise’: compassion remains focus at pop-up injection site

On average, the pop-up overdose prevention site in Raphael Brunet Park has one person use their service every six minutes. Over 26 days, the site has seen more than 800 visitors.

The numbers, on their own, are impressive — enough to push the city to recognize the need for supervised injection sites — but are only half the story. Beyond stats, beyond fights with politicians, beyond spats with neighbourhood organizations, there is one guiding principle for the volunteers at Overdose Prevention Ottawa: what goes on in the tent is not just about reversing overdoses—it’s mostly about caring for people who are, often, understood by the public only by the drugs they use. People who are forgotten and pathologized more often than they are genuinely cared for.

Marilou Gagnon, a nursing professor at the University of Ottawa who was instrumental in organizing OPO, talks less about the quantifiable successes of the site, and more about the people she’s met through volunteering there.

“There was this young guest who was saying how it was his birthday. He always calls his family, but someone stole his phone, and Bobby [Jamison] gave him his phone,” says Gagnon, half-joking that she has to stop herself from crying. “He ended up talking to his family for an hour and a half, long distance. That guy, that day, he talked to his family because of our site.

“People like to put us in a box and say we’re so bad. But what we do is basically connect at a human level,” she says.


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