Pubdate: Mon, 04 Apr 2016
Source: Daily Press, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Sun Media
Author: Andrew Duffy
Page: 7


Ottawa Health Centre Joins List of Proposed Safe-Injection Sites

OTTAWA - Public consultations begin Monday on a controversial 
proposal by the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre to give 
injection-drug users a safe place to feed their addictions.

The health centre wants to add a small-scale facility - with room for 
four or five injection drug users - to its existing cluster of services.

"The goal for us is to provide some education to the local community 
in terms of some of the myths and misunderstandings about a 
supervised injection service," said health centre executive Rob Boyd. 
"And we want to hear what they have to say about our service model."

The safe injection site, he said, can address the principal health 
risks faced by drug users - overdoses and infections - while also 
reducing the number of people injecting in public places and 
discarding their needles.

A preliminary budget suggests the service would cost an additional 
$250,000 to $300,000 a year, money that would have to come from the 
province through the regional health authority, the Champlain LHIN.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre already offers a 
needle-exchange program, counselling, medical and social services to 
about 700 injection drug users in downtown Ottawa. It would be a 
natural evolution for the health centre, Boyd said, to offer clients 
clean needles along with the option of injecting their drugs under a 
nurse's supervision.

Surveys conducted by the health centre suggest addicts will not walk 
more than 10 or 15 minutes to use a supervised injection service. It 
means the centre is not expecting a big increase in client numbers.

"We're hoping there will be a slight increase in numbers - people 
coming in because we're offering supervised injection - but we think 
it's important for people to know that it's not like we're offering 
no services, and suddenly there's going to be 700 injection drug 
users coming here."

Boyd hopes to present a detailed plan to the health centre's board of 
directors in June, then submit an application for federal government 
approval this fall. If the government grants it an exemption from 
federal drug control laws, the safe injection site could open at this 
time next year.

It has been more than a decade since activists in Ottawa first raised 
the possibility of opening a safe injection site in this city. Boyd 
said he's optimistic that the plan will finally come to fruition, 
even though Mayor Jim Watson and Police Chief Charles Bordeleau 
remain opposed to the idea.

Watson has said that limited tax dollars are better spent on drug 
treatment programs, while the police have suggested the facility 
would concentrate drug crime in the neighbourhood.

Chad Rollins, president of Action Sandy Hill, said the residents' 
association is not yet in a position to comment on the safe injection 
site proposal. It will be meeting with health centre officials in May.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said he doesn't know whether 
Ottawa needs a safe injection site like the one in Vancouver, which 
has a much larger population of addicts. He plans to ask the city's 
medical officer of health for an updated profile of the city's 
injection drug users, and for an analysis of overdose deaths in Ottawa.

Currently, Vancouver is home to Canada's only government-sanctioned 
safe injection sites. Such facilities must receive a federal 
government exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in 
order to operate legally.

The previous Conservative government tried to shut down the country's 
largest safe injection site, Insite, but the Supreme Court of Canada 
ruled in 2011 that the attempt was arbitrary, disproportionate and 

The Conservatives responded to that decision by passing a law, the 
Respect for Communities Act, that puts onerous new conditions on any 
group that wants to open a safe injection service.

The new Liberal government, however, has already signalled that it 
believes in harm-reduction programs. Health Minister Jane Philpott 
has approved the country's second safe injection site - a small 
facility that had been quietly operating for years in Vancouver - and 
has made the drug naloxone more widely available as a treatment for 
opioid overdoses.

Philpott has said that she's in favour of "evidence-based approaches" 
to substance abuse.

Safe injection sites are now also under consideration in Montreal, 
Toronto, Thunder Bay, London and Victoria as cities struggle to 
address soaring overdose rates.

Overdoses have skyrocketed in Canada alongside the rising 
availability of fentanyl, a powerful narcotic that is relatively easy 
to manufacture and is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
says that country is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic: 
Between 2000 and 2014, nearly half a million Americans died from drug 
overdoses. The annual number of overdose deaths almost tripled during that time.
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