Windsor drug users may get a temporary supervised site to inject drugs
The head of the Windsor Essex Community Health Centre said it's 'to save lives'
A pair of organizations in Windsor has asked the province to fund a site in the city's downtown core where people would be able to use illegal drugs under supervision.
The Windsor Essex Community Health Centre (WECHC) and AIDS Committee of Windsor (ACW) 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.
An OPS is a temporary location where people can use drugs under supervision to prevent overdose deaths. It's partially funded by the province, with different funding levels for the amount of hours it is open.
The site would also have an outreach worker who would collect data and connect users with services that could curb their drug addiction.
"To save lives, that's the purpose of it," said Patrick Brown, executive director of WECHC. He also sits on the harm reduction working group for the region's Opioid Strategy Leadership Committee.
Twenty seven people in Windsor-Essex died from opioid-related causes between January and October of last year — that's when the province saw a spike in overdose deaths.
Brown said the site, if approved, would be located at Unit 1 711 Pelissier Street in the downtown core. It would be staffed with two people for the six months of its existence.
"They would be harm reduction type workers that are familiar with various injection methods," said Brown.
"The idea is to assist them with proper injection to make sure that they're practicing safe habits," he said, adding that there would be clean needles at the site to prevent infections and naloxone kits to reverse overdoses.
"This is already happening in our neighbourhoods and especially in the downtown area," said Brown. "By providing this type of location it's our expectation that this should lessen in the future."
Provincial candidates weigh in
Three of the provincial candidates for Windsor West said they are in support of supervised injection sites, however there is concern about a lack of public consultation.
You want the residents to be your allies.- Rino Bortolin, Ward 3 city councillor and Liberal candidate for Windsor West
Liberal candidate and city councillor for the downtown area, Rino Bortolin said consultation is important "not because there would be pushback, but you're gaining the residents as supporters. You want the residents to be your allies."
PC candidate Adam Ibrahim said it's important to identify what area to invest in and, "at the same time we need to help the people who need it."
But NDP candidate Lisa Gretzky points out that PC leader Doug Ford has spoken against safe consumption sites, which she calls "concerning."
"We know that we have an opioid crisis here in Windsor, and we know that people need help," she said.
Hear more from the candidates on the OPS site:
Brown said that the long-term goal for the Windsor-Essex County Regional Health Unit is to bring a supervised injection site (SIS) to the community, which is a permanent location approved by Health Canada.
"An OPS is a stop-gap measure, it's just short term. One of our thoughts was as part of the process in looking at a long-term SIS is to utilize the OPS as kind of a measure of utilization," said Brown.
The group submitted the application April 30. Brown said the review likely won't be completed until after the provincial election.
Looking to London
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care said that there have been 16 applications made since the process launched earlier this year.
The first site in the province opened in London and had 1,414 visits in the first two months with three overdoses and no drug-related deaths.
Brown said that they visited the site weeks after it opened to get an understanding of how an OPS works.
"[We] met with their staff, had a tour of their facilities and discussed different issues."
If the application is approved in Windsor, Brown said the next push would be to get the space ready while running an education campaign for people living nearby.
"When these type of sites operate there really is no increase in crime or drug use," said Brown, who added people have no other place to use but in back alleys or throughout neighbourhoods.
Created for the clients
"We're certainly going to have the community involved ... so that they understand what an OPS is," said Brown.
He said the main focus will be about building relationships with people who use the site.
"We're operating this site for their benefit and it's key that they help us to help them," said Brown.
"There's a lot of education that goes to the clients that are using the site to be respectful of the neighbourhood, not to dispose of needles on the street," said Brown.