A week after opening, Montreal's safe injections sites report success

The sites were approved by Health Canada last month and are run by community organizations that have been operating needle exchange programs in the city for years — Cactus, Dopamine and Spectre de rue.

One site operated by the organization Cactus has welcomed 40 users every day since it opened

Cactus, on Sanguinet and Berger streets, is one of Montreal's three first injection sites. (CBC)

It's been a week since Montreal's three first safe injections sites opened and officials say they're a success so far. 

The sites were approved by Health Canada last month and are run by community organizations that have been operating needle exchange programs in the city for years — Cactus, Dopamine and Spectre de rue.

Sandhia Vadlamudy, who heads Cactus, said the new site on Sanguinet and Berger streets has welcomed 40 people every evening since it opened.

"For us, it's a sign that the people we're here for, they have confidence in the services we offer," she said.

Residents of the neighbourhood where Spectre de rue opened voiced their uneasiness about that site's location near the Marguerite Bourgeoys elementary school in a petition, but advocates say the service makes communities safer by reducing the amount of syringes in the streets.

"Every injection that takes place in our facility does not take place in the street, in the alleys, public spaces," Vadlamudy said.

Sandhia Vadlamudy, executive director of Cacuts, said she hopes the centre is a step towards more services to keep drug users in the city safe. (CBC)

She added that the sites' workers didn't expect to "have the approval of everybody" but they're trying keep in touch with the community to hear its concerns.

Public safety

Herbie, a passerby who preferred not to give his last name, said he contracted hepatitis C from a needle decades ago, before the public was educated about it.

'These sites are good in doing the best we can in a bad situation,' says Herbie, a passerby, of the safe injection sites. (CBC)

"Perhaps back then, if this had this been there, I might not have," Herbie said. "It was just a one off thing, but I kind of suffered 40 years from it … We have to do something and stop the spread of this stuff, so I'd give [the service] a plus." 

In May, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre hailed the go-ahead from Health Canada for its potential to save lives – diseases and overdoses being among the dangers.

"What would you prefer: To have syringes all over the place? To have some people die of an overdose in the area?" he said at the time in response to critics of the program.

The Quebec government has provided $12 million in funding over three years to ensure that the safe injections sites are fully functional.

A step forward

Vadlamudy said her hope is that the centres are "one more step" towards offering more services that will keep drug users safe.

Marie Musso, who lives near Cactus, said she'd just learned about it and thought it was a good initiative.

"People who do drugs are here anyway so I think it's better to supervise them … and make sure they don't overdose," Musso said.

Organizers behind the centres hope their services will also be used as a preventive measure to combat the fatal effects of fentanyl.

Shortly before they opened, Montreal police carried out a drug bust, finding small amounts of the powerful drug.

They'd started the investigation in April after officers received multiple calls of fentanyl overdoses in the southern part of Montreal.

The fourth site, L'Anonyme, will be mobile and opens in the fall. 

With files from Matt D'Amours and Kalina Laframboise