Pubdate: Thu, 23 Nov 2017
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Joanna Frketich
Page: A1


Mayor backs scheme, says time to get it out of alleyways and off
railway lands

A decision on whether to authorize a supervised injection site in
Hamilton's core is expected to be made Dec. 4 by the Board of Health.

The proposed site would be located somewhere between Main Street East
and Barton Street East and bordered by Queen Street North and
Wellington Street North.

"It's high time we tried to get these injection issues out of the
alleyways and the railway lines and make sure people who are doing
drugs, do it safely," said Mayor Fred Eisenberger. "People are drug
addicted and that's just the reality. Turning our mind away from that
or sticking our head in the sand is delusional."

While the city is considering one site in an "inner city location
where the need is highest," Eisenberger expects more will follow.

"That's the first location," said Eisenberger. "We'd be considering,
although not advocating at this point, other potential locations
depending on how this all works out. This is really the start."

A needs assessment and feasibility study done by Public Health
Services over the last six months will be released in the afternoon of
Nov. 29.

"I'm very supportive," said Eisenberger. "I'm hopeful council will
accept this notion that this is going to be a positive thing, not a
negative thing. We're not in any way shape or form encouraging people
to use drugs. What we are encouraging, is to do it safely and not do
more harm than necessary."

If council authorizes a supervised injection site, or SIS, community
agencies could go ahead and make proposals to the federal and
provincial governments.

Health Canada must provide an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act for a site to operate. It amended Bill C-37 in May to
streamline the application process because safe injection sites are
considered a key component to battling the country's increasing opioid
overdose crisis.

Ontario's Ministry of Health provides the funding for the sites and
has so far earmarked about $4 million for four sites in Toronto and $2
million for three sites in Ottawa.

"The primary argument for the sites is that they save lives and there
is no shortage of evidence," said Ward 1 Coun. Aidan Johnson. "The
argument for the sites is very strong."

He believes there is also a constitutional obligation to authorize the
sites under the right to security of the person.

"The constitutional rights of marginalized people matter a lot," said
Johnson. "The clients who would be using a safe site are among the
most marginalized people in Hamilton. The fact they are addicted to
the most lethal drugs is an extra layer of marginalization. These are
among the most vulnerable people in our community."

The opioid crisis has hit Hamilton particularly hard. Since January
10, paramedics have been called to more than 360 suspected opioid
overdoses in Hamilton which is more than one a day. A high number are
in the area identified for the supervised injection site.

In 2016, there were at least 52 deaths from opioid toxicity in
Hamilton, which is a death rate 48 per cent higher than the provincial

"We've seen a dramatic increase," said Debbie Bang of Womankind
Addiction Service and Men's Addiction Service Hamilton at St. Joseph's
Healthcare. "Hamilton in particular, specifically around opioids, is a
hot spot in the province."

Opioid addiction accounted for about 1 per cent of clients when she
started tracking the reason for admission 16 years ago. Now it is
about 30 per cent for both men and women.

"There's strong evidence to support SIS programs for opioids that are
based on very positive outcomes in terms of saving lives, reaching
some level of recovery and gaining back some sort of life which
includes relationships, jobs and meaningful activities," said Bang.
"SIS' are a component of keeping people alive. If I'm alive, I have an
opportunity to make decisions about how I might stop using. But if I'm
not alive I can't do any of that."

The sites are particularly important at a time when users often don't
know if their drugs are laced with opioids, particularly Fentanyl, or
at what dose. They can take their preobtained drugs and use them under
the supervision of trained staff at the sites. The aim is to prevent
overdose death and disability, stop the spread of infectious disease
among those injecting drugs, reduce drug use and litter in public
places and connect drug users with treatment services.

"Where people are using drugs, the makeup of which they are not
certain, it's really a good opportunity to have them observed," said
Walter Cavalieri, director of the Canadian Harm Reduction Network.
"They have the opportunity when they are there to talk with a worker
who might be able to give them some advice or recommendations for
services. Give them some friendship and help them to get a connection
with another human being who is healthy."

For any opposed to having a supervised injection site in their
community, Cavalieri says it will likely make their neighbourhood safer.

"People are not going to go over there to destroy the neighbourhood,
they are people who are already in the neighbourhood," he said.
"People don't travel more than three or four blocks to use the safe
injection site.
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