Supervised injection services: saving lives and improving community safety

November 22, 2016

Published in Centretown Buzz, May 16, 2016

by Valérie Levert-Gagnon

A supervised injection service (SIS) is in the works for our partner Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. The Centretown and Somerset West Community Health Centres (CHCs) fully endorse Sandy Hill’s application to Health Canada for an exemption to offer supervised injection in addition to the range of services they offer for people who inject drugs.

SIS is a health service that provides a hygienic environment where people can inject drugs in the presence of trained staff. SISs exist all over the world using a variety of different models.

Contrary to misconceptions, SISs do not provide drugs: clients bring their own. Supervised injection services are evidence-based and have been shown to decrease overdose death, reduce risk behaviours associated with HIV and hepatitis C, engage marginalized people in the health and addictions services system, and cut down on expensive health care costs such as 911 calls, emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

There is no evidence that SISs promote or increase drug use or contribute to more crime in the neighbourhoods where they are located. In fact, as reported by Sandy Hill CHC, most studies of the impact of SISs find that occurrences of theft, vehicle break-ins, discarded needles and drug use in public spaces decrease after SISs are established.

Many community agencies and CHC clients are in agreement.

“A supervised injection service would be better than people using drugs in stairwells and parking garages. Any parking garage downtown has used drug paraphernalia in it. I used to do it myself. I don’t use drugs anymore but, five years ago, I would absolutely have used [supervised injection services] instead of using an alleyway or a McDonald’s bathroom,” said Abby, a Centretown CHC client.

At Centretown and Somerset West CHC, we strongly believe in harm reduction initiatives. Harm reduction is an approach to health care that gives people tools to support them to make healthier choices. From a healthy living perspective, a harm reduction approach recognizes that programs that require abstinence are not effective for everyone and that there is value in reducing unhealthy behaviours, rather than trying to eliminate them altogether.

The Centretown and Somerset West CHCs offer a range of harm reduction services, such as providing safer injection and inhalation supplies, as well as support, referral and teaching on safer drug use.

People can safely dispose of used needles, crack pipes and other supplies at a few spots inside and outside our centres.
Centretown CHC has a city-wide addiction treatment program for people aged 55 and over (LESA) that works with a harm reduction framework – abstinence is not expected when accessing treatment.

Somerset West CHC runs the NESI van, a mobile van that operates throughout Ottawa to provide free supplies for safer substance use.

This column is a collaboration between the Centretown Community Health Centre and Somerset West Community Health Centre. We are local non-profit, community-government organizations that provide health and social services to the residents of Centretown and the Somerset Ward. We believe every one matters and every one contributes to a healthy community.