Mayor, public health support speeding up safer injection site plans

The city is hoping to take advantage of a new bill proposed by the federal government, and shorten the time it will spend studying safer injection sites in Hamilton.

New federal bill proposes an easier process for cities that want to set up such sites

Vancouver's Insite clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside was the first safe injection site of its kind. The federal government just introduced a bill that would make it easier for communities to apply for safer injection sites. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The city is hoping it can move faster on the effort to get a safer injection site in Hamilton, now that Ottawa is proposing to ease the rules around the creation of such sites.

The Liberals announced yesterday that they plan to make safer injection sites easier to open in Canadian communities, just days after city council approved spending $92,000 for a yearlong study on the issue beginning in 2017.

Bill C-37 would remove many of the criteria that study would have to meet for Hamilton to be considered for a supervised drug injection site.

Both the mayor and Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jessica Hopkins lauded the decision, and said this could speed up the creation of a site where people could take drugs in Hamilton under the watch of medical staff.

"From my perspective, the sooner that we get going on this the better, because it could save lives," Mayor Fred Eisenberger told CBC News. "It will help move things along for sure."

This is a significant community engagement issue as well.- Mayor Fred Eisenberger

The Respect for Communities Act, which was introduced in 2015, requires 26 criteria to be met before the federal government can begin considering a new safer injection site — or "safe consumption site," as they are called by the federal government, in an effort to reflect a variety of methods for ingesting drugs beyond intravenous injection.

Some lamented that the city planned to spend a year simply studying the issue, when the Hamilton area has more opioid-related deaths over a five-year period than anywhere else in the province, as well as the highest number of opioid-related hospital admissions and emergency department visits in Ontario in 2014.

Criteria list drops from 26 to 5

However, the city previously said, that timeline was necessary to gather all the information for those 26 criteria the federal government needed.

But should Bill C-37 pass, the 26 application criteria would be repealed entirely, and would instead require those wishing to set up a safe injection site to meet five benchmarks:

  • Demonstration of the need for such a site to exist.
  • Demonstration of appropriate consultation of the community.
  • Presentation of evidence on whether the site will impact crime in the community.
  • Ensuring regulatory systems are in place.
  • Site proponents will need to prove appropriate resources are in place.

"That is certainly a welcome step," said Dr. Jessica Hopkins, the city's associate medical officer of health.

"We will be reviewing the cost and the time it would take to complete the study."

However, it's likely the bill won't have an immediate impact. Hopkins says it could likely take several months to pass, and that no matter what happens, the city needs to ensure it meets those five criteria — especially the community consultation piece.

Eisenberger echoed that sentiment. "This is a significant community engagement issue as well," he said.

Opioid deaths rise 242 per cent in Ontario

According to a recent report from Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, there were 444 opioid-related deaths in the Hamilton LHIN from 2009 to 2013 — that's 138 more than the nearest area, statistically. In 2013 alone there were 96 deaths, which is the highest in the province and well above the Ontario average.

Provincially, the study found that rates of opioid overdose deaths increased a staggering 242 per cent between 1991 and 2010.

(LHIN stands for Local Health Integration Network. In each region of the province, the local LHIN is the authority responsible for regional administration of public healthcare services.)

The problem is taking a toll on hospitals, too. In 2014, there were 587 opioid-related emergency department visits in the region, which is 179 more than the next highest region, and well above the provincial average.

That same year, the Hamilton region saw 266 hospital admissions, which again, is the highest in the province in that time.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said the Liberals are "following up on commitments" with the creation of Bill C-37.

"This is a crisis that is complex, it's multi-dimensional and as we make this announcement this afternoon, the people who are foremost in my mind are family members," she said. "Mothers in particular, to whom I've spoken, who've told me the stories of their sons or daughters who've lost their lives due to opioid overdoses."


About the Author

Adam Carter


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from Peter Zimonjic and Matthew Kupfer