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Does Sudbury need a safe injection site? 'Yes, we do,' harm reduction advocate says

As construction begins this week on one of Ontario's first injection sites in Toronto, health officials are questioning whether a similar program may work further north in Sudbury, Ont.

Sudbury and District Health Unit examining need for supervised injection facility

More public disposal bins are being set up in Sudbury, Ont., to throw away discarded needles safely. (CBC)
As construction begins this week on one of Ontario's first injection sites in Toronto, health officials are questioning whether a similar program may work further north in Sudbury, Ont. 

The Sudbury and District Health Unit is studying the need for such a facility.

But Leonard Frappier, who has been working with drug users in the city for over 20 years through a needle exchange program, said plans are not progressing fast enough. 

"They're wondering do we really need it in Sudbury. Yes, we do," Frappier said.

"The biggest part of harm reduction is having that safe injection site."

'More likely to stop injecting'

Without a safe place to test and use drugs, Frappier said people are injecting wherever they can. 

"We still see them injecting on trails, in the bushes, any restaurant that has a bathroom that they can access," Frappier said. 

"That's why the safe injection site is very needed in Sudbury."
Leonard Frappier, who has worked at a needle exchange program, is calling for a safe injection site in Sudbury, Ont. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Dr. David Marsh, associate dean for community engagement at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, treats addiction patients in Sudbury. 

Over the past five years, he said he has noticed a shift from people snorting oxycodone in the form of oxycontin to injecting stronger drugs, such as hydromorphone and fentanyl. 

"I think that's putting a lot of people at risk of getting HIV or hepatitis, and dying of overdose," Marsh said.

"A supervised injection site could definitely reduce those risks."

Supervised injection 'one part of harm reduction'

Marsh was the medical director responsible for Vancouver's safe injection facility from 2003 to 2010. In his experience, he said people who use the service do not relapse or increase their drug use.
Dr. David Marsh, associate dean for community engagement at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, treats addiction patients in Sudbury, Ont. (Barry Mercer/CBC)

"In fact, over time injection drug users who use a facility like this are more likely to enter treatment, and more likely to stop injecting than injection drug users who do not use such a site," Marsh said. 

Dr. Ariella Zbar, associate medical officer of health and director of clinical services for the Sudbury and District Health Unit, is exploring whether the city should get a safe injection site. 

She said a deadline has not been set for a decision, but the health unit is considering the number of drug users who could benefit from the facility, as well as community perception and feasibility. 

"It is one part of harm reduction," Zbar said.

"We also have to look at mental health and resiliency, making healthy choices, looking at the root causes of addiction so that individuals won't need to have use of these supervised injection sites."

More public needle disposal bins on the way

In the meantime, Zbar notes that public disposal bins have been set up in Hnatyshyn Park and at the health unit's main office at 1300 Paris Street to safely discard used syringes.  

People should call 311 if they find discarded needles in a public place, according to Zbar.

The health unit will not pick up syringes on private property, but it advises people to use tongs to pick up needles and put them in a container with a lid, such as a peanut butter jar or a coffee tin. 

Zbar said the health unit is working with the city to put up more public needle disposal bins by the end of August. Locations have yet to be confirmed.

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a network reporter for CBC News based in Toronto. She previously worked in Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.