23 lives saved in half a year for Hamilton's supervised injection site

On Wednesday the City of Hamilton voted unanimously to allow the Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre to apply to the province's new Consumption and Treatment Service program.

City wants life-saving site to get permanent status from province

On Wednesday the City of Hamilton voted unanimously to allow the Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre to apply to the province's new Consumption and Treatment Service program. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre says its temporary supervised injection site is saving lives — and today it got the city's approval to apply to the province for permanency.

Between June — when Hamilton Urban Core in partnership with the Shelter Health Network opened Hamilton's first and only supervised injection site — and November, it has had 2,321 visits. And most significantly, it has reversed a total of 23 overdoes.

They've also had a total of 2,159 visits for harm reduction services.

The overdose prevention site was mandated by the former Liberal government for a temporary six months.

With a change in government the Conservatives announced in October that a program called Consumption and Treatment Service (CTS) would replace injection sites.

The permanent program will shift from overdose prevention to a focus on treatment and rehabilitation services. The province says it will fund and rebrand 21 sites

But it would still provide support in the event of an overdose.

"It gives it assurance that there's going to be a service here that started, but is going to be continuing," said Denise Brooks, executive director of Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre.

Addressing overdose

In 2017, 87 people in Hamilton died because of opioid overdose — a death rate 72 per cent higher than the provincial rate.

From January to June opioid-related deaths were 28 per cent higher than they were in 2017 during the same period.

Brooks says the site is helping to combat this.

"It is one of the elements in addressing the opioid situation," said Brooks.

Sites such Urban Core have to apply for the program, but in order to do so, it needed support from the city.

"The reality is we're working with other partners, we want to city to be supportive that in this community we know that it's important, we know that it's priority."

On Wednesday the application got unanimous support from council, moving the application forward to the province for the Dec. 31 deadline.

"I think the important thing really is to acknowledge that the unanimous support from council really demonstrates that council understands the issues in the city and they're really trying to provide their support to address issues related to opioids in our community," said Michelle Baird, director of epidemiology, wellness and communicable disease control.

Baird says there hasn't been any deaths onsite.

"They've certainly demonstrated through this that there is use for the service."

Support from the community

Brooks says that Hamilton Urban Core has engaged almost 200 community members in a survey about the center.

One of the findings according to the survey was that "the majority of people felt that services to address the 'drug' problem were needed.

"We found the feedback to be encouraging and are committed to continuing with routine dialogue with the range of those in the neighbourhoods and communities surrounding Hamilton Urban Core to hear their perspective and address any concerns that may surface," said Brooks.

In December the site received an extention to remain open until the end of January. 

Between the application deadline and approval, Brooks says she's of the understanding that there won't be a gap in service.

"We're believing the commitment that there will be no gap in services even if the decision hasn't been made past the end of January that there will be a continuation knowing how critical the services are," said Brooks.