Ottawa Inner City Health wants to amend its application for a supervised injection site in the hopes of offering the services 24 hours a day from a trailer in the parking lot of the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter.
The health care group, which works with the chronically homeless, is the latest group in the city to try to expedite plans to offer supervised injections to drug users because of what they describe as the mounting death toll from opioids.
Ottawa Inner City Health formally applied to Health Canada in February for permission to run a supervised injection site. That approval has not yet been granted, and in the interim, “the world has changed entirely,” according to executive director Wendy Muckle.
“The homeless population, and the population of people injecting in public, has tripled, quadrupled in a very short period of time,” Muckle said.
Now, with winter fast approaching, they want to get their trailer up and running by the end of October.
“For us it’s like operating in a war zone…our nurses are really running the blocks around the Shepherds of Good Hope day in and day out, in addition to the work they’re doing inside saving people’s lives.”
Muckle said she’s aware of three fatal overdoses in the last week alone.
No Health Canada approval, no supervised injection
Drug users would get fresh needles from shelter staff, who would then contact a nurse inside the trailer to see if any of the eight proposed client spaces were available. Users would be supervised in the secure trailer while injecting drugs, and permitted to stay afterward.
But the plan rests on approval from Health Canada. Muckle also hopes the province will come up with funding to run the site.
Without permission, supervised injection will not take place, Muckle said, but staff could still offer other 24-hour services.
Those could include an opioid substitution program to supply legal prescription drugs to users addicted to illegal ones.
Muckle concedes it would be difficult for staff to send users away to inject drugs elsewhere, and more dangerously.
“I really hope that we never get to that,” she said. “I think we really have to put faith in our government to recognize that this is a crisis for citizens of this city and this country, and that they’re going to work with us to do the best that can be done for them.”