Sandy Hill not only neighbourhood centre looking at offering supervised injection

Community health centres in Carlington, Centretown and Somerset West are also looking at the idea of offering supervised injection services to drug addicts.

Medical officer of health has already tabled report supporting idea

An injection kit is shown at a supervised injection facility in Vancouver. Four community health centres in Ottawa are considering supervised injection sites. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Not one but four community health centres in Ottawa are looking at the idea of offering supervised injection services to drug addicts.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is currently looking to set up a supervised injection site, the city's first such service, at its Nelson Street location. 

The health centre's board could start a process next week to ask for a federal exemption so its staff and clients wouldn't be charged with possessing an illegal substance.

But the Carlington, Centretown and Somerset West community health centres are also exploring whether that makes sense for them too.

Somerset West executive director Jack McCarthy said the point of the preliminary investigations is to stop the spread of disease and prevent people from possibly overdosing in alleys or other secluded places.

"We think it's time has come. We've researched it [and] there's good evidence, as I say, to support it," said McCarthy. "We're hopeful that we can be one of a number of sites in Ottawa supporting supervised injection services."

Agencies need to heed 'wake-up call'

The preliminary planning comes as Ottawa's medical officer of health tabled a report this week ahead of the Ottawa Board of Health's June 20 meeting, suggesting Ottawa Public Health adopt a guiding principle to support supervised injection sites and evidence-backed proposals put forward by its community partners.

Dr. Isra Levy said earlier this week that local agencies need to "heed the wake-up call" and find new models that can make drug use safer for those with addictions.

"What I'm really doing is calling on each of the agencies, including Ottawa Public Health, to heed the wake-up call that the epidemiology tells us is going on — that we still have a significant problem in our community," said Levy.

Drug use not limited to core

McCarthy said there would still be many details to sort out, such as how and when the supervised injection program would be set up.

The Somerset West centre will survey clients who take part in needle exchanges and hold information sessions for nearby residents. Then it will need to apply to the federal government for the special exemption ensures staff and clients don't face possession charges.

Cameron MacLeod, who runs the Carlington Community Health Centre, said intravenous drug use isn't limited to people living in the core — and services shouldn't be limited to the core either.

MacLeod couldn't guess how many supervised injection sites a city like Ottawa might need, but he said drug users would only use a site close to home.

Mayor Jim Watson has frequently spoken out against allowing supervised injection sites in Ottawa, suggesting money would be better spent on treating people with addictions, while Police Chief Charles Bordeleau has also expressed concerns about public safety around such sites.