New supervised injection site already eyeing expansion

The director of Ottawa's first permanent supervised injection site says he'd like to expand the clinic's Health Canada exemption to include assisted injection as well as other methods of drug consumption.

Oasis looking at widening Health Canada exemption to include assisted injection

Rob Boyd, director of Oasis at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, stands in the room where drug users inject themselves in the presence of a nurse. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Rob Boyd wants to smile now that his supervised injection site is finally open, but he's keenly aware that the demand for the new clinic is a sign that Ottawa's opioid crisis is growing worse, not better.

"It's a strange feeling right now," Boyd said Wednesday. "I was expecting to feel very celebratory, but it's hard to feel celebratory right now because we're seeing this escalation in overdose and overdose deaths."

Boyd is the director of Oasis, which opened its doors at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre Monday, becoming the city's first permanent supervised drug injection site.
While Ottawa already has two supervised injection sites, the new clinic at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is the first permanent one. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The clinic, at 221 Nelson St., joins two temporary sites already operating within Ottawa — one on Clarence Street, run by Ottawa Public Health in collaboration with Oasis, and another operated by Ottawa Inner City Health from inside a trailer next to the Shepherds of Good Hope on Murray Street, also in the ByWard Market.

Boyd had hoped to open his clinic six months ago, but said his team faced additional hurdles including demands for architectural drawings and detailed plans.

"A permanent site just takes longer. There was a process that was so involved that wasn't required for our interim site, or the one at Inner City Health," Boyd said.

How it works

As they enter the supervised injection site, clients are asked to first register, though they're allowed to use an alias if they prefer to remain anonymous. They're then led into a room with five stainless steel stations, each equipped with the various materials they might need to inject drugs, including a syringe, sterile water, filters and a cooker.

We do know that there are people out there who are unable or unwilling to inject themselves, and they would not be eligible to use this service.- Rob Boyd

A nurse is present during and immediately following the injection.

"We encourage people to stick around for about 20 minutes afterwards," Boyd said. "The longer they stick around, the more likely they might attach themselves to some of the other services we offer."

Eight clients have so far visited the site since it opened, Boyd said, though he expects that number to rise substantially once word gets around.

He's also aiming to expand the clinic's opening hours — currently 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m..

Boyd estimates that at its peak the clinic will be able to service 10 clients per hour, or 120 clients per day.
Rob Boyd, Oasis program director at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, explains how to use the new safe injection site. 0:53

Looking to expand services

While the act of injecting fentanyl is illegal, Oasis and other supervised injection sites are allowed to operate thanks to an exemption from Health Canada.

However that exemption is limited to facilities where users inject without assistance, and forbids the snorting or swallowing of drugs.

"We do know that there are people out there who are unable or unwilling to inject themselves, and they would not be eligible to use this service," Boyd said. "We think that is something that we should easily consider being able to permit."

Boyd said he's contemplating asking Health Canada to allow supervised snorting and swallowing, as well as permitting assisted injections.
After registering, clients at the supervised injection site are offered the various supplies they need to inject themselves with their own drugs. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

"What we're looking towards is doing client-assisted injection, so that people could bring somebody in to do the injection. We wouldn't be having our staff do that."

According to Boyd, it comes down to health-care providers and officials keeping up with the dramatic changes to illicit drug use.

"When we started this seven years ago, Oxycontin was the drug that we were concerned about, and we were trying to establish this service based on that. I can't emphasize enough how much illicit fentanyl has changed that."