'Need is there' for overdose prevention sites in K-W, doctor says

​Sanguen Health Centre wants to open a temporary overdose prevention site as soon as possible — they just have to find the right location. Meanwhile, Cambridge council votes to keep such sites out of downtown.

There are already ‘numerous unsupervised injection sites throughout the region’: doctor Dr. Chris Steingart

Sanguen Health Centre wants to open a temporary overdose prevention site as soon as possible — it just has to find the right location.

"I wish it were tomorrow," said Dr. Chris Steingart, Sanguen's executive director and a physician, when asked if there was a timeline of when he wanted to open the site.

Steingart says there is a need for a site in two areas of the region where overdoses are the highest: downtown Kitchener and Galt, in Cambridge.

"We're moving the process along," he said. "We're trying to find a site that's going to be, number one, accessible to people who are at risk and, number two, that serves the needs of the community as a whole."

"I'm hopeful that we can find a place that, as best as possible meets everybody's needs, and in a timely enough fashion so that we are able to reduce the risk that people are faced with right now."

'Be mindful' of users and residents

Sanguen's plans comes at the same time as the City of Cambridge is making moves to restrict the location of a future injection site.

On Tuesday,  council passed a temporary bylaw to keep any injection site out of the three downtown cores and out of a 500 metre buffer zone around the cores.

City Councillor Frank Monteiro said the move is because of concerns from the public.

"We have to be mindful of not only the users — they need help, they're dying — but we have to be mindful of the people that live there. We have to listen to both sides," Monteiro said.​

'The need is there'

The overdose prevention site would be a possible precursor for a safe consumption site.

Steingart said he's aware some residents are unhappy with the idea of these kinds of services going into Galt, and he knows city council has said it also doesn't want one in Galt, but the site needs to go where it will do the most good.

"I think it's pretty clear that the need is there," he said, noting there were 71 overdose deaths last year in Waterloo region.

"That's just an astoundingly high number to me and it's 71 too many. These are preventable deaths."

He said they have some sites in mind, but they're not far enough along in the process to apply to the province for a temporary overdose prevention site. Once they have a spot, they've been promised a two-week turnaround period for approval, he said.

'Unsafe' drug use already happening

He said residents and council have "valid, real concerns," and he understands them. But he noted there are people who support overdose prevention sites and safe consumption sites in their community because they realize it will help.

"The reality is, as we're sitting here today, there's numerous unsupervised injection sites throughout the region. People are using drugs in the parks, they're using them in alleys, in public washrooms, in vestibules, alone in their apartment," he said, noting this is unsafe both for users and the community.

It becomes unsafe for the community when there are discarded needles or people are faced with helping someone who is overdosing.

A safe consumption site "doesn't just benefit people who are risk of overdose. If it's done properly, it should benefit the community as a whole," he said.