News / Ottawa

Ottawa health centre plans injection-site consultations despite opposition from mayor

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is planning to hold consultations in April on opening a supervised injection site at 221 Nelson St.

An injection kit is shown at InSite, a safe injection facility in Vancouver, on May 6, 2008. Toronto is joining the growing list of Canadian cities - which includes Ottawa and Montreal - that are moving toward setting up safe-injection sites, supervised by nurses, in order to prevent overdoses.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

An injection kit is shown at InSite, a safe injection facility in Vancouver, on May 6, 2008. Toronto is joining the growing list of Canadian cities - which includes Ottawa and Montreal - that are moving toward setting up safe-injection sites, supervised by nurses, in order to prevent overdoses.

Mayor Jim Watson is refusing to soften his rock-hard stance against supervised injection sites in Ottawa, despite one group's plans to hold consultations on the controversial model in Sandy Hill next month.

Toronto is the latest city after Montreal to officially explore supervised injection sites, with its chief medical officer of health outlining his recommendations Monday for three possible locations.

The sites let users bring their own drugs to inject themselves under the supervision of health professionals to prevent overdoses and infection from unsterilized equipment. They also include treatment programs for users who wish get help with addiction and take people who are shooting up off the street.

Watson has been vehemently opposed to bringing the model to Ottawa, in spite of its documented success at Vancouver’s InSite, which says on its website there have been no overdose deaths there since it opened in 2003 and there has been a 35 per cent reduction in overdoses in the surrounding area.

“Mayor Watson’s position on supervised injection sites has not changed. Mayor Watson prefers to see a continued focus on investment in treatment programs,” wrote his press secretary Livia Belcea in an email on Monday.

His opposition comes as overdoses in the city continue to rise.

Since 2012, the number of overdose-related calls to the Ottawa Paramedic Service has nearly doubled. In 2014, there were 909 calls and paramedic spokesman J.P. Trottier is projecting the 2015 figure to rise to 1,000. 

The data include all types of overdoses – including injections – but excludes alcohol-related overdoses, said Trottier. About 15 per cent of cases are deemed accidental.

Rob Boyd, director of the Oasis addictions treatment program at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, is poised to shake up the debate surrounding the sites. The centre is in the midst of seeking a federal government exemption to open one at its 221 Nelson St. office.

Oasis’ existing programs alone are not enough to get drug users the help they need, he said.

“We still have unacceptably high rates of HIV, we still have people who are overdosing and not getting appropriate care and I believe there are still people out there who are not connected to our services,” said Boyd.

“We would really like to have the mayor on board for this.”

Public consultations are expected to begin in April. 

– With files from Torstar News Service

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