Interim injection site could open in 2 weeks

Ottawa's medical officer of health is calling for a temporary supervised drug injection site to be set up as soon as possible in the ByWard Market, weeks before a permanent site opens its doors in Sandy Hill.

Dr. Isra Levy wants site at Ottawa Public Health clinic in ByWard Market up and running within 2 weeks

Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's medical officer of health, speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on Sept. 12, 2017. Levy wants an interim supervised injection site to open on Clarence Street within the next two weeks. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Ottawa's medical officer of health is calling for a temporary supervised drug injection site to be set up as soon as possible in the ByWard Market, weeks before a permanent site opens its doors in Sandy Hill.

Citing an increase in overdoses in the city, Dr. Isra Levy wrote in a memo to the mayor, council and board of health Tuesday that he believes there is an "urgent and immediate need" for supervised injection in the city.

Levy is proposing the interim site be set up at Ottawa Public Health's (OPH) Sexual Health Centre at 179 Clarence St. "as soon as practicable."

The interim site would be run under the auspices of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre (SHCHC), which has Health Canada approval for a site at its Nelson Street facility but isn't expected to open until late October 2017.

Ottawa Public Health is working with the SHCHC to get Health Canada approval to operate the interim site on Clarence Street, according to Levy.

Wants site to open within 2 weeks

The interim site would be open seven days a week, but hours of operation haven't yet been pinned down. OPH employees would provide the service in accordance with Health Canada and SHCHC requirements, policies and procedures.

Marilou Gagnon, a volunteer with Overdose Prevention Ottawa, stands between tents at a pop-up supervised injection site that opened in Raphael Brunet Park in late August. (Radio-Canada)

Levy hopes to have the site up and running "within the next two weeks," he wrote.

"As members will appreciate, this situation is evolving rapidly. I am grateful for your confidence in enabling me to take the steps outlined above, which I have deemed necessary," Levy wrote.

Levy also said he planned to seek formal approval from the city's board of health at its next meeting.

Mounting opposition to pop-up site in park

The proposal comes amid mounting opposition to a pop-up supervised injection site run by Overdose Prevention Ottawa at Raphael Brunet Park. Ottawa police said Tuesday they had received four compaints about it.

The tent site opened in late August. Some neighbours have said the site is too close to children, takes up too much space in the park, and is operating illegally.

It's unclear what effect the opening of the interim site on Clarence Street would have on the pop-up tent's operations.

But Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury wrote in a Facebook post that officials are asking the pop-up site to work with Ottawa Public Health "to transition services to this sanctioned [interim] location."

He thanked Levy and his team for offering an alternative that would operate "under the proper authorities and legislation."

"We know it's been very, very frustrating for residents who've raised concerns over the illegal nature, all the infractions to bylaws and the criminal code and so on," Fleury later said in an interview.

"We're satisfying all of the sides of the coin here, and we're bringing an official operation on an interim basis at 179 Clarence ... I hope that [the pop-up site will] cease operation."

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said he hoped Ottawa Public Health's decision to seek approval for an interim supervised injection site would ultimately lead to an unsanctioned site operating in Raphael Brunet Park to cease operations. (CBC)

Pop-up site demonstrates need

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Levy said the fact that approximately 500 people have used the pop-up site over the past 18 days shows it's meeting a need.

This is about the people in that community that we want to serve. And presumably we'd be serving the same people.- Dr. Isra Levy, medical officer of health

Levy also said he hoped the interim supervised site — which would operate indoors for 120 days — would render the Raphael Brunet Park site unnecessary.

"We would be very closely situated to where they are," he said. 

"From our point of view, this is about the people in that community that we want to serve. And presumably we'd be serving the same people."

If authorized by Health Canada, the interim site would be open initially at the "time of most need," he added.

Overdoses on the rise

The city is seeing more and more overdoses, Levy wrote in his memo.

So far in 2017, there has been a monthly average of nearly 120 emergency room visits for suspected opioid overdoses, up from fewer than 100 per month in 2016, he wrote.

Paramedics reported more than double the number of naloxone administrations in June compared with the monthly average from January to May, and police say they've recently been attending more suspected overdose deaths.

Anecodal information "also points to an increase in overdoses and deaths, many of which may not be seen by paramedics, emergency departments or police," Levy wrote.

Mayor Jim Watson said the proposed interim site "makes good sense," and hoped it would be approved quickly.

"My view is the pop-up site is not legal. It's not authorized, and my hope is that they will co-operate and recognize that there is a site in the geographic area that they're serving —  and that they work at the new site with public health and Sandy Hill."

Representatives with Overdose Prevention Ottawa have not yet commented on the interim site proposal.