Pubdate: Fri, 02 Mar 2018
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The London Free Press
Author: Jennifer Bieman
Page: A2


Nearly three weeks in, London's temporary overdose-prevention site -
the first of its kind in the province - has gone from four drug users
a day to 44, and front-line workers are beaming.

The stripped-down supervised consumption facility opened Feb. 12, a
quick, co-ordinated response to the growing number of opioid overdoses
among London drug users. As of Tuesday, staff were seeing as many as
44 clients a day.

"Clients are having trouble believing it. It's too good to be true,"
said Sonja Burke, needle exchange director at the Regional HIV/AIDS

"We've had the needle exchange program for 25 years . . . We've a
solid service for these people. This is just an additional service.
The trusting relationships are there."

In its first 13 days, the site had 262 visits, Burke said. The
attendance boost has been driven by the facility's reputation among
clients, she says, a testament to the clinic's safe and welcoming 

"Our clients are our best ambassadors. It doesn't matter what we do or
what we say, it's really what our clients tell each other that has the
true power," she said. "Word of mouth spread like crazy." The site is
a safe place to use illicit drugs under medical supervision, with
clean equipment and easily accessible naloxone, an opioid overdose
antidote, nearby.

Even with drug users flocking to the facility, building management and
staff at the site have not encountered any concerns and London police
have not reported any changes in crime or disturbances in the area,
the Middlesex London Health Unit said in a statement.

No overdoses have happened at the facility since it opened, the health
unit said.

The site at 186 King St. - where the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection
already operates a clean needle exchange program - is a response to
the deadly opioid drug crisis that's killed hundreds in Ontario.

In December, after Ottawa and Ontario paved the way for the emergency
measure, London health officials announced they were fast-tracking the
pop-up facility.

The site is designed as a stop-gap to handle an imminent need and
won't be open indefinitely, Burke said. But with London moving to open
a permanent supervised drug consumption site, she said this temporary
facility lays a strong foundation for the future of harm reduction in
the city.

"We're building relationships," Burke said. "It shifts fears to
connections. It shifts the unknowns to connections, to people, to
faces, to actions."
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