Sandy Hill supervised injection site would be 'logical,' says Eric Hoskins

A proposed supervised injection site in Ottawa's Sandy Hill neighbourhood is "logical" and would help the province meet its stated goals to reduce opioid overdoses, according to Ontario's health minister.

Health minister writes letter of support for proposed Nelson St. site

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is proposing a supervised injection site downtown. (CBC)

A proposed supervised injection site in Ottawa's Sandy Hill neighbourhood is "logical" and would help the province meet its goal of reducing opioid overdoses, according to Ontario's health minister.

Eric Hoskins stressed his support for the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre's plans in a letter today to federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, as the centre seeks an exemption under the federal Controlled Drugs and Services Act to open the facility.

"It is my opinion that the proposal appears logical and supported by evidence. Furthermore, it aligns with [the province's] strategic plans to address growing concerns with opioid use and misuse," Hoskins wrote.

The downtown community centre has proposed a facility that would provide supervised injections to between 80 and 150 people a day, many of whom already use the centre for other reasons.

On average, 48 people die each year in Ottawa of drug-related causes, the centre has noted in its proposal. According to health unit statistics, the city also has Ontario's highest rates of HIV and Hepatitis C among people who inject drugs.

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins sent a letter to his federal counterpart on Monday stressing his support for a safe injection site in downtown Ottawa. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Isra Levy, has already voiced his support for supervised injection sites, calling the number of Ottawans who inject drugs — between 1,200 and 5,600, according to a report brought forward at the city's board of health meeting last summer — a "significant problem" for the city.

Mayor Jim Watson, however, has said the money spent on such sites should be used for better treatment programs.

3 sites funded in Toronto

Hoskins's letter comes the same day that Ontario has committed to fund three supervised injection sites in Toronto, at an estimated annual cost of $1.6 million, plus about $400,000 to create the spaces.

The Sandy Hill centre has "one of the busiest harm reduction supply distribution services in Ottawa," wrote Hoskins in the letter to Philpott, which is accompanying the centre's exemption application.

The injection site will be "integrated into the [centre's] existing cluster of harm reduction and health services ... and therefore offer access to primary care, counselling, treatment services on site, as well as provide clients with referrals to other treatment services in the province," Hoskins wrote.

"More than anything, I believe these initiatives around supervised injection services are an opportunity to bring together all jurisdictions to tackle addictions and narcotics misuse."

Legislative changes

In December, Philpott and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced a series of legislative changes intended to speed up the approval process for supervised injection sites.

The changes included repealing the previous 26 application criteria, replacing them with five benchmarks — including proof that the community had been consulted.

Vancouver is currently the only Canadian city with a supervised injection site. There are about 90 sites worldwide.