Addictions doctor calls for treatment in Ottawa instead of supervised injections sites

A doctor whose clinic provides more than 1,000 illegal drug users in Ottawa with methadone and suboxone says the city needs more addiction treatment centres, not a supervised injection site.

'The treatment of addiction is not to give more of the drug,' Recovery Ottawa doctor says

Dr. Mark Ujjainwalla of Recovery Ottawa says treating illegal drug addictions is more important than providing drug users with supervision to inject themselves. (CBC News)

The addictions doctor behind Recovery Ottawa says illegal drug users need treatment centres, not supervision to inject themselves with more drugs.

"I treat, in the trenches, day in and day out, intravenous drug users. We have over 1,000 of them," Dr. Ujjainwalla told Robyn Bresnahan during a heated interview on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"The treatment of addiction is not to give more of the drug. The treatment of addiction is to stop using the drug, and deal with the withdrawal ... and then put them into a treatment centre that is effective and is evidence-based in the sense that it's in-patient and you deal with the bio-psycho-social needs of the individual."

Supervised injection sites have been a hot topic in Ottawa in recent weeks. Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau are opposed to the idea, but Ottawa's medical officer of health and several community health organizations support it.

Proponents of supervised injection sites make the argument that it's safer for illegal drug users to inject drugs under the supervision of people who can help them if something goes medically wrong, such as an overdose, and who can give drug users information about other resources.

But Ujjainwalla calls it a "smokescreen," saying health care money would be better spent on treating the addictions themselves.

'A serious problem with virtually no treatment available'

"Ten per cent of our population has an issue with addiction and mental health; maybe more. Less than one per cent of the LHIN [Local Health Integration Network] money is allocated for the treatment of addiction," he said.

"We have a problem in Ottawa. We have an epidemic of addiction. We have a serious problem with virtually no treatment available."

Recovery Ottawa has existed for about two years, providing illegal drug users with legal prescription drugs they can take to manage withdrawal and stop having to inject themselves, but Ujjainwalla said Ottawa is lacking treatment options for what's behind addiction.

"... I'll put you on methadone, you'll never have to use a needle again in your life, and then we'll get you into a meaningful treatment ... Our problem is [the city doesn't] have those resources, Robyn. The time to any meaningful [treatment] resource we have in Ottawa, like the Royal Ottawa Hospital, it's upwards of a year," he said.

"If you want to go to treatment, no problem. You have $30,000 to go to a Betty Ford. But these poor people, what [proponents of supervised injection are] saying is let's give up on these people, let's let them use drugs and shoot drugs in there, and then when they walk out they get arrested and go to jail. It's ridiculous."

Listen to the entire interview with Ujjainwalla here.


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