Egli: Why we need Ottawa Public Health’s supervised drug-consumption site
For more than 20 years, Ottawa Public Health has served and provided leadership in Ottawa by reducing the risk of infectious diseases and deaths through harm reduction services. Through a needle distribution and retrieval program at 179 Clarence St. and a mobile van that travels throughout our city, OPH has been a pioneer in delivering services to prevent the transmission of HIV, hepatitis C and other associated diseases among people who use drugs.
The decision last Friday by Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care that it will not be providing ongoing operating funds for OPH’s Consumption and Treatment Services at 179 Clarence St. is of great concern. In addition to providing frontline services, OPH coordinates harm reduction services across 30 organizations in the city. OPH has been innovative in expanding access to harm reduction services, which also includes counselling, education and referral to primary health services and addiction and treatment services.
In the summer of 2017, when the risk of overdose and death due to fentanyl in counterfeit prescription medicine and illicit drug supplies increased, OPH, in collaboration with the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, was the first health organization in Ottawa to operate a sanctioned supervised consumption service, at its 179 Clarence St. location. The OPH team drew on its expertise to provide a life-saving service in the midst of an opioids overdose crisis. The experience of offering the supervised consumption service improved the ability to connect with clients, to support them where they are, and increase referrals to treatment. Since opening in September 2017, this service has supervised some 14,731 client visits where drugs were consumed, reversed more than 200 overdoses, and in most of these cases diverted people from busy hospital emergency departments.
Ottawa Public Health has been innovative in expanding access to harm reduction services, which also includes counselling, education and referral to primary health services and addiction and treatment services.
OPH has since supported other health organizations to add to their programs and services to provide supervised consumption services connected to primary care, managed opioid programs and the social supports needed to save lives and address some of the challenges of people most in need in our community. Such comprehensive services need to continue to grow in number as the risk of death due to fentanyl overdose continues each day. While I am grateful that funding still exists for three clinics in Ottawa, it is distressing that, at this critical time, funding for this important resource has been discontinued.
OPH also has critical roles in the prevention of substance use, promoting an expansion of the harm reduction approach across all treatment agencies, and in fostering connections between organizations for more integrated mental health and substance use treatment options that put the needs of the clients at the centre. Last month, OPH partnered with The Royal to host an opioids overdose summit which consulted with more than 200 stakeholders and people with lived experience to prioritize ideas and actions for a collective comprehensive approach to reduce the risk of opioid overdose in Ottawa.
OPH will continue to work with partners to increase investments in early childhood development, mental health, affordable housing, social inclusion, anti-stigma work, and employment, to decrease the root causes of much substance use and address barriers to treatment.
Everyday, fentanyl overdoses reach across the geographic boundaries of our city and have a devastating impact on the lives of those who use drugs and their loved ones. In the midst of an overdose crisis in our city, I am committed to working with all levels of government, exploring alternative funding sources and innovative service delivery options as we work to maintain, and expand, this crucial access to consumption and treatment services for Ottawa residents.