Overdose Prevention Ottawa hits two month mark with increase in use
Unsanctioned injection site is seeing an increase in use with winter approaching and no indoor space to go to.
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It’s been over two months since the volunteers behind Overdose Prevention Ottawa first set up their tented overdose prevention site in Raphael Brunet Park, near the Byward Market.
In those two months they’ve had, a war of words with politicians, and over 2,500 visits. The group is looking ahead to the cold Ottawa winter, but it has no plans of stopping.
The number of people who are accessing the site has been increasing steadily. Nights where 60, 70 or 80 people visit are no longer out of the ordinary. Just this last weekend, more than 100 people visited the site on Friday and Saturday.
“People are feeling pretty comfortable,” said Marilou Gagnon, one of the key organizers behind OPO. “I think they’re getting used to us now.”
In total, 2,566 people used at the site in the first two months, with the average being 41 people per night. That’s one person every four or five minutes, on average; at the one month mark, it was about one person every six minutes.
That increased use matters, because there’s strong indicators the drug supply is getting more and more dangerous. In recent weeks, Ottawa police have announced that carfentanil — an opioid ten thousand times stronger than morphine used for sedating large animals like elephants — was found in street drugs.
That mirrors what OPO sees on the street. “Every time I’ve seen a test being done,” said Gagnon, “every single test has been positive.” The group tests drugs upon request or if the see a drug that appears suspect.
Volunteers on the ground said they’re frustrated by what they see see as provincial inaction.
What seemed like a flurry of movement from the province, with newly-announced funding and the creation of an opioid task force, has slowed; volunteers at OPO say they’ve not heard anything about what their role is with the province, and the officially-sanctioned site at Sandy Hill is stuck sitting on its hands awaiting provincial approvals for their renovations.
“You have these qualified, ready-to-go teams who are ready to do this work and are being held back being told to be patient,” said Gagnon. “What I’m seeing is a lot of talking by people who are in their offices getting paid and a lot of doing by volunteers who are not getting paid and have absolutely no support.”
Wherever overdose prevention sites go, controversy seems to follow. Gagnon has said in the past that to her, “it’s all just noise.” For the people on the ground at OPO, that seems unchanged.
“It’s not that complicated. What’s complicated is bureaucracy. [...] To really save lives on the ground, that’s not really hard.”