Here's what an overdose prevention site could offer to addicts in Windsor

Harm reduction managers who oversee overdose prevention sites offer some perspective about what actually happens when an addict wants to safely use drugs.

Harm reduction managers for London, Ont. and a Victoria, B.C. sites break down how they work

Two Windsor organizations have applied for a provincially funded, temporary Overdose Prevention Site for the city. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Overdose prevention sites have popped up in Ontario, thanks to provincial funding, and Windsorites are just beginning to understand that a location may be coming to Windsor. 

The Windsor Essex Community Health Centre and AIDS Committee of Windsor submitted a joint application last month to bring a temporary Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) to the city with a long-term goal for a permanent site.

Residents near the proposed location (Unit 1-711 Pellisier St. in the city's downtown core) are mixed on the potential for the new neighbour and people are looking for more information.

Down the 401 in London, Ont., an OPS has been open for three months now.

"Understanding that people are going to use the substance, we want offer them education and information to use that substance safety," said Sonja Burke, director of harm reduction services at London's Regional HIV/AIDS Connection.

Seventy per cent of the people who overdose here don't actually have to go to the hospital ... there's no ambulance or ER cost associated with us providing that first aid response.- Heather Hobbs, manager of harm reduction services for Vancouver Island

"Then with that comes the conversation about what that looks like going forward."

What happens inside an OPS?

Burke said the person is greeted at the door and someone meets with them to discuss the types of services they'd like to access. Her organization works with community partners to have nurses, housing agents and other health care or support workers on staff and available to people who come through the doors. 

"What these sites provide us is an opportunity to connect with people who are very very disconnected to community supports [and] to healthcare," said Burke.

"Addiction is a healthcare issue ... it is a medical concern that we need to look at."

In case of OD

A person attending London's OPS site offers some basic information and is given equipment they might require to use drugs. They bring their own substances and have access to an after-stay area so they can be monitored. Burke said if they overdose, her staff has naloxone kits on hand. 

2,700 times people were not using drugs on the street,- Sonja Burke, director of harm reduction services, Regional HIV/AIDS Connection

Other parts of the country also have expertise with these kinds of sites.

"Seventy per cent of the people who overdose here don't actually have to go to the hospital," said Heather Hobbs, manager of harm reduction services for AIDS Vancouver Island. 

"There's no ambulance or ER cost associated with us providing that first aid response."

Staff are trained to notice the early signs of an overdose, like respiratory rates, said Hobbs, which means staff can respond "proactively" making a " less invasive and less traumatic" experience for both workers and the user. 

Hear more about London's OPS site from CBC's Windsor Morning:

Lessons learned. London opened its first overdose prevention site in February. Now Windsor has applied for one. We'll check in with Sonja Burke, the manager of the London site to hear how they did it. 10:10

Hobbs said Vancouver Island has nine OPS sites that operate like the one in London does. Hobbs, like Burke, knows that building trust with addicts is an important step when it comes to recovery.

Showing you a needle isn't enabling you to use a substance, they're going to use a substance whether we're supporting them or not.- Sonja Burke, director of harm reduction services, Regional HIV/AIDS Connection

"It's a pretty intimate act to witness somebody injecting for example and there's a trust that gets built that is pretty unique," said Hobbs. "People then come to understand that they're not being judged that they're valued as human beings, that we care about them."

Windsor police not convinced

Police Chief Al Frederick said the service does not support the application for an OPS.

"We need to fully understand the spin-off types of offences that may occur in communities where these facilities are located," said Frederick.

But Burke said OPS sites are not new across the country and have been extremely successful in other places. 

They're dying alone in their homes because they feel so deeply ashamed and unable to reach out to people who could support them.- Source

"It's challenging for the average person to understand because we're asking them to step out of what has always been," said Burke. "What has always been is not working, and we need to ask ourselves 'What else can we do?'"

The London OPS has had more than 2,700 visits in the last three months and police are "fully supporting" the services offered there. 

"2,700 times people were not using drugs on the street, 2,700 times we were able to interact with people we otherwise wouldn't be able to interact with," said Burke. 

This is where the proposed Overdose Prevention Site would go. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Isn't it enabling users?

A common criticism of the sites is that they enable addicts to use more regularly. But both Burke and Hobbs disagree.

"Showing you a needle isn't enabling you to use a substance. They're going to use a substance whether we're supporting them or not," said Burke. "That is the struggle with addiction."

For Hobbs, she said the situation in B.C. is "catastrophic" and getting worse. 

"They're dying alone in their homes because they feel so deeply ashamed and unable to reach out to people who could support them," she said. 

When asked if there was anything she'd do differently, she doesn't hesitate.

"Yeah, that we would have opened it earlier."

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