Hamilton's supervised injection site says it can show province the merit of saved lives

Ontario's health minister says the province will review supervised injection and overdose prevention sites and Hamilton's first and only temporary supervised injection site is hoping they look at the impact its had.

Hamilton's overdose rate is 72 per cent higher than Ontario's

Ontario's health minister says the province will review supervised injection and overdose prevention sites and Hamilton's first and only temporary supervised injection site is hoping they look at the impact its had. (CBC)

Community groups who run the city's only supervised injection site for combating opioid overdoses say an "honest" look at the sites will prove to the Ford government that the sites have merit.

That merit is simple to find, they say: lives saved.

The community members dealing with the city's drug issues were reacting to Tuesday's Ontario government announcement it is weighing the fate of supervised injection and overdose prevention sites.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says the government is reviewing evidence on the province's sites to see if they "have merit" and are worth continuing.

Elliott says the government plans to make a decision in the coming weeks on the sites that are about to expire, but will also eventually rule on the program as a whole.

They will find that yes, it is and that it is part of looking at viable solutions to save people's lives and that overdoes prevention sites do save people's lives.- Denise Brooks, Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre, executive director 

During the spring election campaign, Premier Doug Ford said he was opposed to supervised injection and overdose prevention sites, though his party says Ford has committed to reviewing evidence on the issue.

Hamilton's overdose rate is 72 per cent higher than Ontario's. In 2017, 87 Hamiltonians died from opioid overdoses.

Shelter Health Network is operating the city's first and only temporary supervised injection site in collaboration with Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre, and the executive director of the centre, Denise Brooks, says they'll have to find a way to enter the conversation with the province.

"We would be more than pleased to have a conversation, to provide information, to share some of the stories, whatever would be helpful to get the true picture of the difference that's being made," said Brooks.

Looking at the impact

When it comes to Elliot saying they're going to review the sites to determine if they have "merit," Brooks says she's hoping they do look into the impact.

"I'm wanting to believe they are honest in their statement to actually look and see if it's making a difference and that in doing so they will find that yes, it is and that it is part of looking at viable solutions to save people's lives and that overdoes prevention sites do save people's lives, that it's part of the puzzle," said Brooks.

The city's only site located at 71 Rebecca Street in Hamilton's downtown is only funded until the end of November.

It could be in jeopardy if the province were to claw back funding says Brooks, leaving less hope for other potential sites.

"Obviously the risk is great because that's only a few months. "It is certainly is by nearby enough to be concern because what happens to folks? What happens to people?" said Brooks. 

Hamilton's overdose rate is 72 per cent higher than Ontario's. In 2017, 87 Hamiltonians died from opioid overdoses. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"If there isn't any funding for this one, there certainly isn't for anything else," she said.

With Hamilton's overdose rate as high as it is, Brooks says there's a bigger picture.

"This certainly would be a concern for us, but I would think a very big concern for the city in general."

'We ought to at least give it a try'

The site's home is in Coun. Jason Farr's Ward where he says there's locations throughout the ward's parks and public buildings where "unsafe" injections are happening.

He says he's hoping the province looks at the effectiveness of supervised injection and consumption sites.

"We don't have to go too far back into history, and just prior to the opening which was only a few months ago to be aware of the dire stats," said Farr. "It would be a shame to not have it fully tested." 

Overdose prevention sites are temporary facilities approved by the province to address an immediate need in a community, while supervised injection sites are more permanent locations approved by the federal government after a more extensive application process.

"When people are dying at a rate greater than any other city as it relates to their addictions and when discarded needles have the potential of being greatly reduced in public parks and public spaces because of supervised consumption sites, then we ought to at least give it a try," said the councillor.

Farr says we were late to the party to begin with. 

"To revert back to that without even have tested the effectiveness in a municipality where we're above and beyond provincial averages as it relates to deaths then it would be unfortunate."

"There's still hopefully an opportunity where we could see some appreciation for the fact that doing the same thing over and over again as it relates to this crisis is the definition of insanity. The results aren't changing."

With files from the Canadian Press and Samantha Craggs