City announces plans to open interim supervised injection site in Lowertown
The site still needs the official approval from Health Canada.
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Eighteen days after harm reduction workers opened an unsanctioned pop-up supervised injection site in Lowertown, the city’s public health agency is taking steps to open an officially sanctioned, interim site.
Officials from the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre have asked Health Canada to amend their exemption to allow for a satellite supervised injection site at Ottawa Public Health's facilities (179 Clarence St.).
Dr. Isra Levy said that once it opens, the site will operate seven days a week, but the hours of operation have not yet been announced. The initial plan is to operate for the next four months, but that they would be monitoring the situation to consider extending operations.
While official sign-off from Health Canada is still pending, Dr. Levy said that they were confident that the pieces were all in the right place for the site to operate.
Ottawa Public Health expects that the site will be operational in the next week, but Dr. Levy said that they would be operating "yesterday, if we could do it."
"I think it's a good initiative on the part of Ottawa Public Health to bring a more permanent place where people can go and get the help they need," said Mayor Jim Watson, who has previously come out against supervised injection services.
He said that he hopes the pop-up site operating in Raphael Brunet Park will close down once OPH's site opens. "My view is that the pop-up site is not legal, it's not authorized and my hope is they will co-operate and recognize there is a site in the geographic area they're serving."
Overdose Prevention Ottawa volunteer Marilou Gagnon said that she was fully in support of the site’s opening, and stressed that it was an opportunity to provide more services for drug users than their team of volunteers can provide.
“The need is very much present,” she said. “From Day 1 this site has been about providing a life-saving service.”
Dr. Levy claimed, on Tuesday, that the site was not a direct response to OPO's site, but acknowledged that the site "has been part of the dynamic, obviously."
It is important, said Gagnon, that the site try to offer services that OPO are unable to: early-morning hours, for instance, when many drug users are at risk due to a lack of available services.
OPH's site will operate independent of the pop-up site at Raphael Brunet Park, but at this time OPO has no plans to stop offering service.
Dr. Levy said that his hope was that officials would be able to work closely with harm reduction workers from OPO's site to better understand the needs of drug users. Specifically, he said that he hoped that the site would be able to offer drug testing services. However, he noted that they would not be "in the business of opioid substitution therapy," such as prescription heroin, hydromorphone, or methadone treatments.
- With files from Ryan Tumilty