Pubdate: Mon, 11 Dec 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: Jonathan Sher
Page: A1


It'll be months before London finds out if it gets the go-ahead and
funding for supervised drug injection sites, but it appears key
players already are walking in unison to support the sites, but
restrict where they can locate.

The area's medical officer of health, a key city planner and an
advocate for the downtrodden all express some confidence there will be
suitable sites sufficiently far from schools and other places
frequented by children.

"I completely understand why the city and stakeholders would want to
limit where it goes," said Chris Mackie, the head of public health in
London and Middlesex County. "I definitely think it will be possible
to find one or two locations that will work."

His optimism came days after city planners began the process of
finding the best neighbourhoods for injection sites, while creating
restrictions to keep them away from kids.

Though people across the city inject drugs, there is a concentration
of them in and near the core, including the downtown, SoHo, Old East
Village and parts of the Hamilton Road neighbourhood, Mackie said.

But that doesn't mean every place in core areas is suitable for sites
where drug users can get clean needles, be supervised by health
professionals to guard against the risk of overdose and be guided,
when appropriate, on how to recover. "We want it to go where the
problem is and not where it is going to cause problems," Mackie said.

If those words sound familiar, it's because London - and other Ontario
cities - engaged in a similar debate five years ago when they placed
limits on where methadone clinics could be built. Back then, Abe
Oudshoorn, a Western University professor and registered nurse,
cautioned against limiting locations so much that the sites would
become inaccessible to those who need to use them.

Oudshoorn is playing a leading role, too, with safe injection sites,
doing the legwork that found a concentration of those with addictions
in core area neighbourhoods.

Methadone users are not in the same stage as those actively injecting
themselves with drugs, he said. The former group is on a path to
recovery and their medication is administered by doctors.

So, it may make sense to have greater restrictions on injection sites,
although not at the cost of making them inaccessible, Oudshoorn said.
The key is to strike the right balance, he said.

"(These sites) need to be within walking distance (for those who use
them)," Oudshoorn said.

Tasked with helping find the correct balance is city hall's Gregg
Barrett, who heads up long-range planning. The first step was
publishing a public notice recently. The next step is for planners to
learn from the experience of other cities and present a preliminary
report to politicians, something Barrett expects to do early in 2018.

Once politicians provide more guidance, staff will prepare
recommendations and another report, then let citizens have their say
in public meetings.

The health unit hosted public meetings focused on public health; the
meetings hosted by the city will look at location and parameters of
buildings, from the size of waiting rooms to overall capacity.

There already are supervised injection sites in Vancouver, Toronto and
Ottawa, Barrett said, and many other cities are in the planning stage.

He shares Mackie's optimism that the right balance will be struck. "I
would agree," Barrett said.

Before a facility can be built, the federal government would have to
approve an exemption to criminal laws against the use of illicit drugs
and the Ontario government would have to provide funding. The health
unit already has applied for both, Mackie said.

The planning and consultation come as London battles an opioid crisis
that has been around for years but threatens to grow worse.

Ontario's chief coroner said last week there were 336 opioid-related
deaths in the province from May to July, an increase of 68 per cent
from the same time period last year.

The province said there were 2,449 emergency department visits from
July to September related to opioid overdoses, a 115 per cent increase
from a year earlier.

The province also announced naloxone, an overdose-reversing
medication, will be offered to 61 police services across the province
and all 447 municipal fire departments.

- - With files from The Canadian Press
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