Health Canada approves 2 safe injection sites in Montreal

The federal government has given the green light for the opening of two supervised injection sites in Montreal.

In the next few weeks, Cactus will open downtown and Dopamine in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve

Montreal Public Health officials say that once Montreal's supervised injection sites open, they will likely be overseeing anywhere between a total of 200 and 300 drug injections a day. (Navneet Pall/CBC)

The federal government has given the green light for the opening of two supervised injection sites in Montreal.

The final go-ahead from Health Canada, which comes months after Ottawa approved the plan for the sites, means that the two centres can open their doors within weeks.

Cactus Montreal, until now a needle-exchange site only, will open on Sanguinet Street in downtown Montreal.

The other supervised site, which will be run by the community organization Dopamine, will be in the city's east end in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

Sandhia Vadlamudy, executive director for Cactus Montreal, said nurses and community workers are eager to start, and the clinics are almost ready to go.

"Drugs are a part of our reality so we choose to have a pragmatic approach," she said. "We receive between 150 and 300 passages from people who use drugs, so we have these relationship already built with the users."

This is one of the 10 mirrored booths at Cactus Montreal, where nurses can discreetly supervise drug users. (CBC)
The Cactus site will have 10 booths supervised by two nurses and a social worker. Each booth is mirrored to allow discreet observation.

They expect to oversee anywhere between 140 and 215 injections per day.

Quebec Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois said the supervised injection sites can save lives. In Montreal, there are 4,000 injectable drug users — every year 17 of them die from an injection-related overdose.

"It is a population that exists. They are citizens like me and you who inject themselves. Why not facilitate that with hygienic conditions and qualified personnel who can prevent overdoses?" Charlebois said.

Two other downtown sites, Spectre de rue and a mobile site called Anonyme, are still awaiting final approval from Health Canada.

Sandhia Vadlamudy, executive director of Cactus Montreal, says supervised injection sites will help prevent fatal drug overdoses. (Navneet Pall/CBC)
The centres will be open 22 hours a day, 365 days a year. The mobile site will offer services during overnight hours.

Raymond Massé, Montreal's director of Public Health, said he believes users will come to the site.

"They will want to know exactly how it will work, and that's a normal phenomenon but we expect that most of the people will want to come and use it."

People who wish to use the sites must register at the time of their first visit.

Organizers say the drug users' information will remain confidential.

With files from CBC's Navneet Pall