Sandy Hill centre set to become safe injection site

By Rupert Nuttle

In response to the nation-wide opioids crisis, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is finalizing plans for a supervised injection site.

The centre, located several blocks east of the Byward Market, currently houses a needle exchange program, but the program’s director, Rob Boyd, sees supervised injection as an essential next step.

“It really can’t happen fast enough,” Boyd said, adding that the centre dealt with three overdose emergencies on its premises last fall — the only such instances he’s seen in 20 years. Boyd suspects the culprit was fentanyl — the synthetic opioid that’s killed hundreds of Canadians in recent years.

Funding for the injection site has been approved by the province, and the centre is currently waiting for the go-ahead from Health Canada. A response is expected in late February.

Coordinating between various levels of government can be “very, very challenging,” Boyd said, but “ultimately I think that the province, ourselves and the federal government are all motivated to get something going as quickly as possible.”

He hopes to see the injection site up and running by the summer.

The site will follow what Boyd calls an “integrated model” — meaning drug users will have access to the centre’s other medical and mental health services. It will be open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, which would require bringing more staff on board.

“It comes down to funding at the end of the day,” Boyd said of the plan. Provincial funding has yet to be finalized.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre’s supervised injection site would be the first of its kind in Ottawa. Health Canada recently approved three such sites for Montreal. Three in Toronto are currently awaiting federal approval.

Currently, there are two supervised injection sites operating in Canada, both in Vancouver.