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27 Sep 2017

Ottawa’s first legal safe injection site opens

179 Clarence will operate until Sandy Hill site opens

Sep 26, 2017 by Nevil Hunt  Ottawa East News

Ottawa’s first supervised — and legal — safe injection site is now open.

Ottawa Public Health is hosting the clinic at 179 Clarence St., between Dalhousie and King Edward, starting Sept. 26. It’s open from 3 to 8 p.m. each day, and those hours will be extended as more staff is trained to observe intravenous drug users, and help them in the case of overdose.

The small room set up for users to inject drugs comes with a crash cart — medical equipment to help if someone overdoses or has a bad reaction to a drug. A defibrillator and oxygen tanks stand at the ready. Two registered nurses will be present, sitting a few steps from the people who inject drugs.

The city’s permanent safe injection site is expected to open in a matter of weeks at the nearby Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. The city was prompted to open this temporary site on Clarence when a pop-up injection site was opened by the private group Overdose Prevention Ottawa a couple of blocks away.

Andrew Hendriks, Ottawa Public Health’s director of health protection, said the Clarence site was set up quickly.

“We’ve been working in overdrive,” he said.

Safe injection sites are part of the city’s harm-reduction strategy. Given the recent spike in overdoses in the city — many linked to the drug fentanyl — having a nurse oversee drug use is expected to save lives.

Supplies such as needles, tourniquets, and alcohol wipes are available for use. Disposal boxes for used needles are within reach.

The injection area has space for two clients to inject drugs while seated on plain office chairs that sit in front of stainless steel tables. Near those chairs are two seats for people waiting to inject drugs. Nurses will be very close by.

“It’s similar to other pop-up or mobile sites,” said Kira Mandryk of Ottawa Public Health. “Nurses can see and can intervene (in the case of overdose).”

Clients will be asked to spend no more than 20 minutes to take one injection in an effort to ensure people waiting don't decide to go elsewhere to inject drugs.

All clients will be offered assistance to quit drugs when they visit, and Mandryk said that, if they are interested, “we’ll make sure they are seen as soon as possible”.

The cost of extra staffing and the renovations required to prepare the room are being paid by the province. Hendriks said he expects the operation to stick to a budget of about $75,000 a month.

By mid-October, he hopes enough staff will be trained to keep the site open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Rob Boyd, director of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, said a safe injection site has been planned for a long time, and he expects it to save lives.

“We’ve been working on this for six years — back then, OxyContin was the big problem,” Boyd said. “Fentanyl has been a game-changer — the drug supply is so toxic now.”

Dr. Isra Levy is Ottawa’s medical officer of health. He said it’s impossible to say how many people will make use of the Clarence Street site.

Once the Sandy Hill location opens — it will have five seats for clients — the city would need permission from Health Canada to keep the 179 Clarence site open. Levy said the city hasn't asked for that permission, but didn't rule it out.

Levy said he’d eventually like to see the Sandy Hill site open 24 hours.



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