Make supervised injection widely available: outgoing top doc

With opioids being abused from the suburbs to downtown, all health-care providers should be empowered to provide supervised injection, according to outgoing medical officer of health Dr. Isra Levy.

'Every health provider should be enabled to be a provider of that service'

Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's outgoing medical officer of health, says all health-care providers should be empowered to supervise drug injection because of the magnitude of the opioid crisis. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

All health-care providers should be allowed to supervise drug injections given the extent of opioid abuse, according to Ottawa's outgoing medical officer of health.

As Dr. Isra Levy prepares to leave for a new job at Canadian Blood Services in January 2018, he says the opioid crisis is of such magnitude that even several supervised injection sites in the city will not be enough.

"My own belief is that every physician and every health-care provider should be enabled to be a provider of that service," said Levy on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "We know that opioids are being used throughout the community, in the suburbs and the core."

Levy was an early advocate of supervised injection sites, calling on the city to support them in spring 2016. That put him at odds with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who argued the money would be better spent on treating those with addictions, and with the city's chief of police, who expressed concerns about public safety around such sites.

Unsanctioned tent no longer needed in old location, Levy says

Levy also had measured praise for Overdose Prevention Ottawa, the volunteer group that ran an unsanctioned supervised injection tent in a downtown park, saying that Ottawa Public Health was "surprised when they showed up," but they delivered important evidence of the need for service in that part of Ottawa.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa's facility shut down earlier this month after the city refused aid from the Ontario government which would have provided a portable generator, heater and an emergency medical assistance team (EMAT) tent to the site.

The pop-up supervised injection site run by Overdose Prevention Ottawa in Raphael Brunet Park shut down in early November. Outgoing medical officer of health Dr. Isra Levy says the surrounding community is now well-served by other facilities. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Asked whether the city should have welcomed that assistance, Levy said the area is being served by the Ottawa Public Health supervised injection site on Clarence Street as well as the 24-hour supervised injection trailer now being operated at the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter.

"I think if those kinds of community volunteers are going to be working in Ottawa in the future, locating them in that particular location is probably less helpful than in other locations around the city," Levy said.

Health needs of clients should come first, doctor says

Levy downplayed his disagreements with the mayor and police chief over supervised injection, saying his decision to leave after 10 years was driven by career goals.

"The perception is that there's been a lot of friction between our different points of view, but actually on the ground we've shared a lot of common interest," he said.

Through the debate, Levy said he advised his own staff to keep an open mind, but to put the health needs of clients first.

"Work with the partners in municipal services. Work with our partners in law enforcement. But be sure to be focusing on the needs as we understand them as health professionals of the people we're serving," Levy said.

"And that's what we did."