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City eyes zoning for safe injection sites

Mayor, council direct staff to inspect zoning regulations for any future site for supervised injection

As the City of Oshawa eyes zoning regulations for supervised injection sites, other measures are being taken across the city to minimize citizens’ exposure to potentially dangerous drug paraphernalia. Most recently, the John Howard Society installed a needle drop box in Memorial Park while the Pinewood Centre had a similar kiosk installed three months ago. (Photo by Dave Flaherty)

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

With the federal government making moves to ease the process for opening safe injection sites, the city is looking to be prepared should such a facility wish to open in Oshawa.

Following a motion from Mayor John Henry during a special meeting of the Development Services committee, city staff will now be looking into the proper zoning regulations for these safe injection sites and how such a development would fit in with the city’s current rules.

“It’s important to understand that the safe inject site issue is a federal government issue and a priority,” Mayor Henry said. “It’s my hope that they realize that when they do do this, that they should really take into consideration that they be connected to either a treatment centre, hospital, clinic or existing medical facility.”

In December 2016, the feds announced changes to the government’s drug strategy, placing more of a focus on harm reduction. Most recently, the government approved a trio of safe injection sites in Toronto.

The city’s decision to begin looking into this was applauded by Paul McGary, the director of the Pinewood Centre, the branch of Lakeridge Health focused on mental health and addiction services.

“I think the mayor and council are bang on raising the issue and should we have an opportunity to work wth our partners in reviewing and assessing the value of that kind of service locally, I think we would be pleased to do so,” McGary says.

The Pinewood Centre, located at 300 Centre Street South, would seem to fit the bill for the type of location suggested by Mayor Henry. While McGary agrees that may be a good fit for such a facility, it’s too early to say.

“It’s of course very, very early and there would be considerable amounts of consultation and planning with key partners and so forth,” he says. “But Pinewood, it is part of Lakeridge Health, so it is part of a hospital, it is one of the largest (addiction treatment facilities) in the province and we do work already with specialized programs for opiate users and we’re fairly high traffic in terms of the services that we offer.”

For those reasons, McGary says he can’t help but think Pinewood would be considered a strong choice to locate a future facility should it happen.

Right now though, Paul Ralph, the city’s commissioner of development services, says no such development is in the pipeline and staff are only working off proactive direction from council.

“There’s no one knocking on our door right now to initiate one in the city, I think the mayor wants to be proactive and make sure that when that happens, if it happen, that we have proper zoning, that we direct it in the proper location to serve the residents and those in need.”

And the need is there as the opioid crisis has hit Oshawa just has it has hit other cities across Canada.

McGary says a safe-injection site could offer a valuable service to those with substance-use disorders in the city, and that based on the evidence, the facilities have been successful in other areas around the globe.

“If you look internationally, these are sites that have been used in different countries that are even further ahead than we are in terms of harm reduction, public health models and the evidence has been consistently positive,” he says.

Currently, Pinewood offers clean syringes for those who use the centre in collaboration with the John Howard Society. A few months ago, in an effort to reduce the number of dirty syringes found around the city, Pinewood installed a safe-disposal kisok at the building. Most recently, the John Howard Society installed a similar kiosk at Memorial Park.

Pinewood does not offer a safe injection facility, which allows users to shoot-up in the presence of healthcare professionals.

McGary says that these facilities always work best when in collaboration with an existing healthcare facility, as opposed to being a standalone operation.

“We’re not going to stop someone’s use, if people are going to use, they’re going to use. What we’re trying to do is prevent people from dying in the streets,” he says. “Wouldn’t we all want someone who has a substance use disorder to use in a safe, respectful environment where they’re going to have a high likelyhood of walking out the door at the end of the day because they’re being observed and secondarily, because they’re going to be involved with treatment professionals who are going to try and engage them in care?”

For Mayor Henry, it’s about providing support for all members of the community.

“We need to provide full care for our residents that are having challenges,” he says. “The only way we can do that is to make sure that all the additional healthcare (and) drug treatment is in place to help the people in our community that have challenges.”