Pubdate: Tue, 20 Sep 2016
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Matthew Van Dongen
Page: A1


Crack pipes, overdose kits also get panel's OK

Hamilton will join the vanguard of Ontario cities studying whether to
give drug users a legal, supervised site to inject opioids such as

The board of health voted Monday to study supervised injection sites -
so long as the cost fits within the 2017 budget.

But the panel asked for emphasis on public consultation in areas that
could host such a centre.

The vote was one of several Monday that will move the city from
laggard to provincial pioneer in public health "harm reduction"
strategies, including a decision to offer free, clean crack pipes and
potentially expanding distribution of anti-overdose kits.

Until Monday, Hamilton was one of only six public health units in
Ontario that did not already hand out "inhalation kits" meant to cut
the sharing of crack pipes and curb diseases like HIV and Hepatitis

Council previously nixed a 2011 public health plea to offer the

Dr. Jessica Hopkins, the city's associate medical officer of health,
stressed the programs don't "condone" drug use or crime.

"This is about keeping people alive and safe and as healthy as
possible," she said.

And she noted there were 38 opioid-related deaths in Hamilton in

Such programs help both the drug user and the wider taxpaying public,
she added.

For example, a treatment course for Hepatitis C can cost more than
$80,000 and 200 new cases are diagnosed in Hamilton each year.

"We all benefit when rates of HIV and Hepatitis C are lower in the
community," she said.

Right now, only two legal supervised injection sites exist in Canada.
Both are in Vancouver.

In Ontario, both Toronto and Ottawa are seeking federal legal
exemptions that would allow sites to be set up in those cities, while
London and Thunder Bay are in the midst of feasibility studies.

Councillors voted to allow surveying of the public to begin, with a
more detailed report on how to pay for a full feasibility study
considered during the 2017 budget debate.

Some councillors balked at the estimated $250,000 study price

But Hopkins said it is possible grants could offset some of that

Setting up a supervised injection site would require nursing staff to
supervise and aid drugusers in case of an overdose and could cost in
the ballpark of $1 million.

Coun. Matthew Green acknowledged some residents would likely be
uncomfortable with a legalized drug injection site in their

"But I would point out we already have injection sites all over the
city," he said, pointing to alleys, parks and parking lots.

"We know this is happening … The question is, Do you want to have it
happen in a safe space and potentially save some lives?"

Coun. Aidan Johnson, a former legal aid lawyer, called it a social
equity issue and argued the city has an "ethical obligation" to help

A video statement to councillors from recovered drug users Kelly Smart
and Chrissy Hawkins, who sat in the audience, echoed that argument.

"It's about meeting people where they're at," said Hawkins. "We're
people too … We need to be safe."

Only one councillor, Lloyd Ferguson, voted against moving ahead with
the surveys and 2017 budget consideration of the cost of a full study.

"I have trouble with this from a moral perspective," he

Ferguson, who is also the police board chair, asked how officers are
supposed to deal with a city-sanctioned site to break the law.

Hopkins said all supervised injection sites need to first get a
federal exemption that protects drug users and staff on site from drug
use or trafficking charges.

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police issued a position paper in
2012 expressing concerns about supervised injection sites and
suggesting they could contribute to rising neighbourhood crime.

Hopkins said Hamilton police have asked to be a part of any
feasibility study but have not expressed formal opposition.

Councillors still need to approve a 2017 budget allocation for the
study, along with a requested $260,000 to expand distribution of
anti-overdose naloxone kits.

Free inhalation kits - basically, clean crack pipes - can be
distributed immediately via the existing needle exchange van program
because the program is paid for by the province.
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MAP posted-by: Matt