The city of Thunder Bay faces unique challenges as it works towards creating a supervised injection site, says one of the lead researchers examining the feasibility of the project.

Dr. Thomas Kerr is a professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and has spent years studying safe injection sites in Vancouver, and around the world.

"Let's be clear. Thunder Bay is a very, very interesting site for feasibility work of this kind," said Kerr.

Thunder Bay was formed by the amalgamation of several smaller communities and stretches along the shoreline of Lake Superior. It has a population of about 110,00 yet is hundreds of kilometres away from another city of a similar size.

"I'm not aware of any location that is like Thunder Bay, being in the more northern reaches, including rural and non-rural components . I've never seen a similar place do this type of work so I think it's very interesting but it also really points to the fact that it's needed," he said.

Kerr explained the feasibiltiy study must look at the location of the site, how it can be integrated with other health care services, and the actual design.

Research shows that supervised injection sites can vary from a few rooms in a medical clinic, to a large stand-alone facility, which is the case in Vancouver's east end, with over 5,000 injection drug users in the neighbourhood, said Kerr.

"That's why it's a good thing the feasibility work is being done in Thunder Bay because when the population is kind of spread out over a large area, it's not clear whether a single facility in one place would work well," said Kerr.

Studies show "that many drug users won't travel a great distance to use such a facility, so unless you can put it in close proximity to where people would otherwise be injecting it might not get much use," said Kerr.

He said the research on the supervised injection site in Vancouver has shown:

  • 30% reduction in overdose deaths in the area around the facility
  • 30% increase in people going into detoxification programs
  • dramatic reductions in risk behaviour associated with transmission of HIV and Hepatitis
  • no increase in crime
  • no increase in initiation of drug use    

The study examining the feasibility of a safe injection site in Thunder Bay gets underway in March.