News / Ottawa

'It was for a different lifetime': Inner City Health revises plans for supervised injection site

The organization wants to run a supervised injection site out of a trailer in time for winter.

Hygienic booths and syringe-disposal bins fill one room at SafePoint in Surrey, B.C., the first supervised injection site to open since the province declared a public health emergency more than a year ago over rising overdose deaths from opioids.

David P Ball / Metro Order this photo

Hygienic booths and syringe-disposal bins fill one room at SafePoint in Surrey, B.C., the first supervised injection site to open since the province declared a public health emergency more than a year ago over rising overdose deaths from opioids.

Ottawa Inner City Health is submitting an amendment to their application to house a 24-hour supervised injection site in a trailer outside the Shepherds of Good Hope facility, because their initial proposal was rendered "useless" by the increasing severity of the overdose crisis.

"The number of people who need services has just exploded," said Wendy Muckle, director of Inner City Health.

She said the initial appliction submitted to Health Canada submitted in February was designed for about 20 people, whereas the crisis has evolved to the point where they figure they will need enough resources to serve 150.

"It was for a different lifetime," said Muckle. "We don't have space inside Shepherds [of Good Hope]."

The application, which Muckle said would be submitted on Thursday or Friday, would allow them to open much sooner. They are asking for a six month exemption to operate a supervised injection site out of a trailer—which Muckle has already asked management at Shepherds of Good Hope to purchase—and said that it will give them time to develop plans to find more resources to deal with the large number of people requiring their services.

Their proposed site will have room for eight people to inject at a time, and will serve a key need by operating aroudn the clock.

"We need a service that operates 24 hours a day," said Muckle. "We need the best services in the late evening and early morning."

Those are two periods that have been identified by harm reduction workers as key gaps in existing services.

"Once our hair's not on fire, we'll be able to look more systematically [at services] with public health and all the other stakeholders."

Ottawa Public Health said that they "are pleased to hear of Inner City Health's plans and that multiple community partnersa re exploring ways to enhance harm reduction services in our community."

As it stands, Muckle said that the Shepherds of Good Hope facility simply doesn't have enough space to house people safely.

"It's really something how full the shelters are right now," she said.

Muckle also praised the work of Overdose Prevention Ottawa volunteers, who are in something of a stand-off with the city over their refusal to shut down after an OPH-run site began operating on Clarence Street this week.

OPO members had criticized some of the restrictions that were placed on drug users, such as the requirement that each person inject themselves and that people are not permitted to split drugs.

Part of the problem is that Health Canada restricts how supervised injection sites can operate, and won't loosen those policies without evidence that they are effective at improving health outcomes. "OPO is doing everyone a favour," said Muckle, by showing that less restrictive services can work. "Currently, Health Canada does not allow you to allow people to inject each other [but] that is an issue they are very open to having discussions on."

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