Ottawa's newest supervised drug injection site — a trailer in the parking lot of the Shepherds of Good Hope in the ByWard Market — has finally received approval from the federal government to open its doors.
Health Canada inspectors checked the trailer Monday, and staff planned to begin welcoming clients Tuesday, a government spokesman confirmed.
The site, operated by Ottawa Inner City Health, is a block away from an unsanctioned supervised injection site in Raphael Brunet Park.
"Supervised consumption sites are an important harm reduction measure and part of the Government of Canada's comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate and evidence-based approach to drug policy," the federal government said in a news release.
"International and Canadian evidence shows that, when properly established and maintained, supervised consumption sites save lives and improve health without increasing drug use or crime in the surrounding area."
The trailer, which sits directly behind the building at the corner of Murray Street and King Edward Avenue, is now surrounded by an elaborate wooden shelter.
10 overdoses in 24 hours
Volunteers with Ottawa Inner City Health said the site is at the epicentre of the city's opioid epidemic.
"We've had 10 overdoses in the past 24 hours. That qualifies us as ground zero," said Wendy Muckle, the group's executive director.
Ottawa Inner City Health is responsible for training and hiring the nurses and peer workers who will staff the injection trailer. After months of paperwork, and several weeks of construction, two Health Canada inspectors visited the site on Monday in the last stage of the approval process.
In order to get the Health Canada exemption to allow illicit drugs inside the trailer, staff had to provide the inspectors with an operating plan and a safety strategy.
"We had to show what measures we would take to prevent the trafficking of illicit drugs inside the trailer … and how we would make sure clients were safe and secure and staff were safe and secure," Muckle said.
She said the trailer will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The trailer is equipped with clean needles and naloxone kits. Approximately 50 nurses and peer workers have been hired and trained to intervene in the event of an overdose, but more than that, the injection trailer staff are also trained to treat opioid addiction, Muckle said.
"We have nurse practitioners every day — they'll be available to start people on [opioid dependence drug] suboxone and we have a system for fast tracking people to start on methadone," Muckle said.
Users can step into one of eight curtained stalls inside the injection trailer. Each stall is equipped with a desk, chair, a light and a plastic bin for used needles. Staff don't want users to leave the trailer while high and are hoping a small entertainment area will encourage them to linger longer and sober up.
Clients will be encouraged to play video games, watch television or read a book. They'll also be offered coffee, juice and granola bars.
Right now, the trailer will only be used to supervise injection drug users, but Muckle said the metal and wood building could be ventilated in the near future to help addicts who smoke their opioids.