City could be forced to open safe injection site

The city of Ottawa could be forced to open supervised drug injection clinics if the province says to — much like it did back in 2007 with the safe inhalation program for crack addicts.

“City council voted to end the crack pipe program and it was ended. And then the province stepped in and forced the city to reopen it,” said Chris Grinham of Safer Ottawa.

“So if the Premier’s office says you have to have it, then the city is going to have to fight it but ultimately may have no choice, and that’s very worrisome.”

Grinham and his wife, Lisa, live in Lowertown.

In 2006 they began cleaning up discarded drug equipment in their neighbourhood after children in the area were picking up dirty needles.

A study suggesting Ottawa should open two injection sites was released from St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto on April 11.

While the goal is to reduce the transmission of blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis C, Police Chief Charles Bordeleau and Mayor Jim Watson don’t support the sites.

The province won’t be opening supervised injection clinics, according to the Premier.

“I want all Ontarians to know that we won’t be moving forward with any specific proposals,” Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote in a letter to the Toronto Sun.

“As experts continue to be divided on the value of the sites, this isn’t currently a priority for our government.”

Public health dollars, McGuinty said, will go elsewhere.

“When it comes to health care, our government prides itself on making decisions based on evidence. We listen to the experts — it’s how we make sure Ontarians have access to the very best care and that we get good value for our taxpayer dollars,” said McGuinty.

Associate medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches calls injection sites a complicated issue.

“It’s not just a public health issue. There are federal levels, questions and involvement on the provincial level,” said Etches. “This is about healthcare services, so there’s many players and partners that need to be involved.”

Currently, the safe inhalation program operates out of the Somerset West Community Health Centre.

Its mobile program, supplying free, clean crack pipes to addicts, has been running since summer 2008.

The program was originally developed in April 2005 by Ottawa Public Health.

In July 2007, the Board of Health withdrew its support, canceling the program.

Following a proposal by community agencies, the program was reinstated five months later by the province.


Chris Grinham of Safer Ottawa.

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