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Sandy Hill clinic raises awareness about controversial drug control method

Photo courtesy of Flickr (CC)

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre held a mock safe injection site Sept. 30 to raise awareness about its importance before submitting an application for a permanent site.

The clinic plans to hold demonstrations with the hope to dispel myths about safe injection sites and reassure the surrounding community.

The site at 216 Murray St. was designed to emulate the model of Insite in Vancouver, currently Canada’s only safe injection site, which provides clean needles and a place to take illegal drugs with federal exemption.

Mark Tyndall, chief of infectious diseases at the Ottawa Hospital and a professor at the University of Ottawa’s faculty of medicine, worked with Insite.

“Supervised injection sites have been proven to prevent death and disease wherever they have been opened and Ottawa needs to move ahead on this,” he said.

The City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Police Service oppose the site and are looking for other ways to help addicts.

“We’re looking for changing models, and we need to focus on better methods,” said city councillor Mathieu Fleury.

Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa Chief of Police Charles Bordeleau have been advocating for alternate methods of assisting the homeless and addicts through shelters, detox, and other forms of community support.

“We’re trying to decentralize, and have support all over Ottawa, not just downtown,” said Fleury.

The site was first proposed in 2012 but failed to receive the necessary funding and sanctions from Health Canada. The site has still not been approved and the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, along with the Drug Users Advocacy League (DUAL) and local doctors at the Ottawa Hospital, are currently putting together another application. They hope the mock site will help build support within the community.

Ottawa has among the highest human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C rates in Canada:15 per cent and 78 per cent respectively, with 4,000 to 6,000 intravenous (IV) drug users. Tyndall estimates, based on the Vancouver model, that more than 50 per cent would use a safe injection site.

“How many total IV drug users there are, no one knows,” said Sean LeBlanc, a former addict and now chairperson of DUAL. “But the 60 safe injection sites around the world have been proven to reduce rates of HIV and Hepatitis C.”

“It’s untrue to say there are no issues,” Fleury said. “There are calls from residents on both sides of the issue, and the industry doesn’t agree on the best way to proceed.”

LeBlanc hopes the site will gain approval and open soon and said he is “tired of my friends dying.”