Watson wants province to overturn injection site funding cut

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is calling the provincial government out over its cut to supervised injection sites, saying the government should be spending more, not less on the service as the opioid crisis continues.

Province is pulling funding for Ottawa Public Health's supervised injection site

The Clarence Street supervised injection site offers two booths where users can inject drugs. The city has said the facility will remain open for now. (Radio-Canada)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is calling the provincial government out over its cut to supervised injection sites, saying the government should be spending more, not less on the service as the opioid crisis continues.

The provincial government announced late Friday afternoon that it would not provide ongoing funding to Ottawa Public Health's site on Clarence Street, but would fund three other sites in the city: the Ottawa Inner City Health Site on Murray Street and the sites at the Sandy Hill and Somerset West community health centres.

Watson, who at one point opposed supervised injection sites, said the province should not be cutting back.

"In the face of an ongoing substance use crisis in Ottawa, and across the province, we suggest that this is a time that provincial support for this service should be expanded, not reduced," he said in an open letter to Health Minister Christine Elliott.

Reducing other costs 

Mayor Jim Watson wants the province to reconsider its decision to suspend funding. (Radio-Canada)

He said the Clarence Street site has seen 14,731 visits since it first opened and supported 513 unique clients. The site is the second busiest in the city, behind the nearby Murray Street site. Watson said there were 202 visits where people needed enhanced monitoring and they have managed 132 overdoses.

In the letter, he said the sites are preventing other costs to the health-care system.

"Using average costs for paramedic transport and emergency room visits, the actions of the OPH team have saved $135,000, not including police and fire service response calls, through service avoidance alone," he said.

The annual cost of the Clarence Street site has been $996,000.

Government responds 

In an email, Elliott`s press secretary Hayley Chazan said they stand by the decision, but added that sites can re-apply, as can new facilities.

"Based on extensive consultation with experts, we are confident the model we have brought forward is the right approach to connect people struggling with addiction with the care they need and deserve," she said. 

Chazan said that they rejected sites only if there was similar services nearby.

"The only applications that were not accepted, including the site at Ottawa Public Health, were in locations with proximate and fully accessible approved consumption and treatment services sites."

Watson acknowledged that the Clarence Street site is close to the Ottawa Inner City Health facility, but said both sites have been operating at capacity since they opened.

"This proves that not only is there is a demand, but there is a requirement for these consumption and treatment services," he said in his letter. 

More services 

When the Progressive Conservative government was elected, they said they wanted supervised injection sites to do more to continue to receive funding, including providing more supports and access to rehabilitation services. Watson said the city's site worked towards the goals. 

"The OPH consumption and treatment site has been providing the residents of Ottawa with exactly the type of programming that your government has envisioned and has continued to add on more comprehensive services," said Watson in his letter.

Coun. Keith Egli, who is chair of the city's board of health, said when the government made their announcement Friday there were just two days of funding left.

"We had so little advance notice this was going to happen that there wasn't any chance to make any kind of transitional plan," he said on CBC's All In A Day. "You can't just stop the service on a dime and tell people to figure it out."

Egli said asking the province for a review was their first step, but they will also ask the federal government for support and if that fails he is prepared to look for ways to have the city fund it.

"We are going to be looking at all options to maintain the service, because it's an important service and we don't want to lose it."