Kitchener-Waterloo

Public health investigates possibility of safe injection sites

The Region of Waterloo is examining the possibility of safe injection sites, a move that received support from regional council with a warning that the larger community may not welcome the plan with open arms.

Regional council heard a presentation about harm reduction at its meeting Tuesday

The Region of Waterloo Public Health is starting a feasibility study into safe injection sites in the region. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The Region of Waterloo is examining the possibility of safe injection sites, a move that received support from regional council with a warning that the larger community may not welcome the plan with open arms.

Regional council approved a feasibility study into safe injection sites on Tuesday after hearing presentations about drug use in the community and harm reduction strategies.

Grace Bermingham, manager of information and planning for Region of Waterloo Public Health, told council safe injection sites were the next step in a comprehensive harm reduction strategy.

Despite ongoing efforts such as making naloxone available, needle exchange and disposal programs, Bermingham said injection drug use is on the rise and fentanyl has appeared in the region.

"All of these reasons brought the group to consider what more can be done," she told CBC K-W The Morning Edition's Craig Norris. 

Bermingham pointed to several reasons why safe injection sites have been effective in other communities. Not only do they reduce drug use in public and improper disposal of needles, Bermingham said, there are health professionals are on hand in case an overdose occurs.

Not stand-alone facilities

"Also in Ontario, supervised injection services must be integrated into places with other services," she said. "So they'll also have access to health care, mental health supports, and social supports including referral to treatment when they're ready to take that up."

Vancouver was the first place in Canada to have safe injection sites, but Bermingham said any local sites would differ because they wouldn't be stand-alone facilities.

Safe injection sites have been approved for elsewhere in Canada, recently three were approved in Toronto.

Several regional councillors said they supported the idea of safe injection sites, but weren't sure the community would be on board.

I don't think the broader community is necessarily there yet.- Coun. Elizabeth Clarke

"I don't think the broader community is necessarily there yet," Coun. Elizabeth Clarke said. I encourage you to do a similar presentation to the municipal councils… It's absolutely the way to go, but it will take courage on the part of councils to support that."

Getting community input is a big part of the next steps, Bermingham said. A full consultation with the public is required in order to receive a site's exemption under the federal controlled substances act.

The exemption also requires having statistics on the need in the community, a structure in place for administrative and maintenance support.

"We need to consider what's really best for the community, but also for people who use substances," she said. 

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