Pubdate: Wed, 06 Jul 2016
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Page: A1
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: David Reevely


Health Minister Says Province Won't Support Proposals Unless Council Does

City council will have to vote for a supervised drug-injection site 
in Ottawa before the provincial government will support it, Health 
Minister Eric Hoskins says, and there's no guarantee the province 
will help pay for one.

A decision by the city's board of health won't be enough, Hoskins 
said Tuesday, giving his clearest explanation yet of the hurdles any 
proposal has to vault.

Now that the health boards in both Ottawa and Toronto have voted to 
support injection sites - Ottawa's made a general statement of 
principle last month, Toronto's backed three specific proposals 
Monday - I asked the minister specifically what it will take to get 
the province's backing and whether any money is likely to be 
forthcoming. Safe-injection sites are supposed to save the lives of 
chronic drug users by letting them shoot up in safe places, where 
nurses will be on hand to deal with overdoses. They're also meant to 
give some of society's most down-and-out places to go where they know 
they can get medical help from people who are prepared for them. In 
both Ottawa and Toronto, the expectation is that injection sites will 
be added to health clinics that already run needle exchanges and 
other programs for drug addicts.

Toronto's health board supported an injection site in one clinic for 
drug users the health unit runs itself, and two more in independent 
community health centres. In Ottawa, four such health centres - in 
Sandy Hill, Centretown, Somerset West and Carlington - are in various 
stages of putting together proposals.

"We fully support any discussion around making our communities 
safer," Hoskins said Tuesday, in a statement relayed through 
spokesman Joshua McLarnon.

"This includes moving forward with an evidence-based approach on 
addiction and narcotics abuse that ensures we address prevention, 
treatment and harm reduction at the same time. While we recognize 
that community-run-and-supported safe-injection sites can be part of 
the solution, they must first go through a number of critical steps - 
including municipal and federal approval - before being implemented. 
Following recommendations from the local boards of health, municipal 
governments must approve and submit a formal request for review."

Ottawa's city council created a separate health board in 2011 
explicitly to try to take the politics out of decisions on health 
policy. A couple of years before, council had voted to stop funding 
Ottawa Public Health's distribution of clean crack pipes to drug 
addicts to reduce the spread of disease. City councillors themselves 
agreed that they weren't the people best placed to make decisions 
like that. The health unit has its own responsibilities, its own 
provincial legislation and now its own overseers.

But now an even more delicate question has to be re-politicized.

When Ottawa's health board voted 9-2 in favour of safe-injection 
sites generally, its five non-politicians (an emergency-room doc, a 
psychologist, a nurse and the top executives at the Victorian Order 
of Nurses home-care agency and the Ottawa Mission) were all in 
favour, along with downtown councillors such as Mathieu Fleury and 
Catherine McKenney, whose wards could get the sites. The dissents 
were from suburban councillors Shad Qadri and Michael Qaqish.

Mayor Jim Watson is personally critical of supervised injection sites 
(he'd rather spend money on drug treatment, he always says, though 
many people who actually do drug treatment say what Ottawa needs most 
is an injection site). After the health-board vote, the mayor 
reiterated his view but pointedly acknowledged the expertise of the 
health unit and the board that oversees it.

The skeptics will be able to say they're reluctant while acquiescing 
to the health unit's recommendation, when the time eventually comes. 
They'll still have to vote yes or no, though.

The minister also touted the province's spending on mental health and 
harm-reduction, but wouldn't say whether his ministry will support 
injection sites financially. The Sandy Hill centre's preliminary 
estimate is that adding an injection site would cost about $300,000 a 
year, which is serious money in such a facility's budget. That's 
about half what its substance-abuse programs cost now.

Qadri, for one, was adamant that if any injection sites open in 
Ottawa, not one penny of city money should go into them beyond 
anything the city is legally obliged to cover.

"As we await formal proposals coming to the province, we think it is 
important not to pre-empt that review process by determining what, if 
any, financial involvement would come from the Ministry of Health," 
McLarnon said.
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