Ottawa Board of Health backs interim injection site

The board of Ottawa Public Health carried two motions to increase access to supervised injection sites in Lowertown and Centretown for people using drugs.

Board votes in favour of 'interim' site on Clarence Street, permanent site at Somerset West CHC

Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's chief medical officer of health, says Ottawa Public Health needs to be working directly in harm reduction in the face of the opioid crisis. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The Ottawa Public Health board supported two motions Monday night in support of supervised injection services in Lowertown and Centretown.

The first motion — to create an interim supervised injection site at the public health clinic at 179 Clarence St. — was a last-minute addition to the agenda supported by the city's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Isra Levy.

The second — a motion from Coun. Catherine McKenney introduced during the meeting — called for Ottawa Public Health (OPH) to advocate on behalf of the Somerset West Community Health Centre's application for a permanent supervised injection site.

Ottawa Public Health is working with the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre to allow the city's Clarence Street clinic to operate as an interim site using the exemption Sandy Hill received from Health Canada.

Levy said the work of volunteers at Overdose Prevention Ottawa impressed upon him the need for a supervised injection service.

"The kinds of numbers that they were reporting they were seeing — really, several people every night in just three hours — did confirm what we suspected," Levy said. "Services like that would really have an impact and could be expected to make a difference." 

Robert Jamison and Marilou Gagnon speak to the Ottawa Public Health Board about Overdose Prevention Ottawa's unsanctioned site in Lowertown. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Volunteers from Overdose Prevention Ottawa, which operates an unsanctioned site in Raphael Brunet Park, said they had 765 visits in 24 days. The site is open three hours a day.

"It felt that we're being listened to. That's a good thing," said Robert Jamison, an Overdose Prevention Ottawa volunteer.

"It's pushing things forward making people work a little quicker, a little harder and that's what I want to see."

Marilou Gagnon, a public health nurse who also volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa, said the group counts distinct visits without tracking each client's visits.

'Interim' site to operate for 120 days

Andrew Hendriks, a director for health protection at Ottawa Public Health, said data shows an average of 120 emergency room visits per month related to suspected overdoses, with a hotspot in Lowertown.

Previous consultation showed support for harm reduction services in Rideau-Vanier, he said. 

This map shows unintentional opioid overdose-related emergency visits from 2016 and the first three months of 2017. (Ottawa Public Health)

Gagnon said OPO intends to use the relationships it has built as a peer-run health service to redirect people to the Clarence location once it's up and running.

The interim site would still require Health Canada approval, Levy said. The proposed interim site would operate for 120 days with a report to the board of health at its first 2018 meeting.

Somerset West CHC gets support

Coun. McKenney introduced a motion to have Levy work with the provincial and federal governments to speed up the approval of the Somerset West Community Health Centre's supervised injection site.

The motion said Health Canada has provided a letter saying they will be able to provide an exemption if they have a letter of support and funding from Ontario's Ministry of Health.

Stan Kupferschmidt, a frontline worker with Somerset West Community Health Centre, spoke about the seriousness of the opioid crisis. Naini Cloutier, executive director of Somerset West CHC, sits next to him. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Naini Cloutier, executive director of the Somerset West CHC, said they are asking for $1.5 million from the province to operate 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Centretown has the second highest rate of emergency room visits related to overdoses, Cloutier said. 

She hopes the support from Ottawa Public Health will lead to a successful application faster.

"It's a very arduous process that we've been going through," she told CBC News. "We're hoping this will have a practical impact."