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Oshawa supports harm reduction measures

City looks at options for supervised injection sites

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Following a federal government move to streamline the approval process for supervised injection sites, the City of Oshawa has been doing its homework on where these sites should be located if one were to open in the city, and who should be involved.

A staff report came before councillors during a recent meeting of the Development Services committee, and while it received no discussion, the topic may soon come up again in the council chambers after a recommendation to have the Region of Durham’s health department present to council on the subject.

The move is only one piece of the city’s efforts to try and ensure they are best situated to deal with the opioid crisis. For Paul Ralph, the city’s commissioner of development services, the issue is continually evolving, and if harm reduction measures like supervised injection sites (SIS) are required, the city needs to be prepared to make the decisions on the where and the how.

“I think there’s a lot of goodwill among the key stakeholders that there is an issue here in Oshawa and we need to take care of this vulnerable part of our society, and it’s just what’s the right way to do it?” he says.

Recognizing that the city are not experts on the issue was part of the reasoning behind requesting the regional health department present to council, but on top of that, Ralph notes that there needs to be a public consultation in order to gather resident feedback on safe injection sites.

“A lot will depend on the public consultation process,” he says.

In general terms, a SIS allows drug users to use in a safe and clean space, using clean needles and in the company of medical professionals who can assist in the event of an overdose.

At this point, the preliminary staff report identifies some criteria for preferred locations and stakeholders for any future SIS, and at the forefront, should be the Region of Durham.

“Given the broad scape of the issue the Region of Durham Health Department should take the lead role in establishing a region-wide strategy to address the opioid crisis with input from the local municipalities and other stakeholders,” the report reads.

And as of February, the region has set up a task force to work to that very end.

At this point, staff note that they are generally supportive of SIS and recommend that any future SIS should be in locations that “offer a range of medical services (nursing, doctors, counselling) and are appropriately staffed by qualified professionals.”

“A facility that is part of a broader health and/or social service centre where other services such as general medical services, counselling services, social services, etc, are located,” the report reads.

And similar to comments surrounding the future locations for Ontario Cannabis Stores, staff note that future SIS locations need to be in locations away from other vulnerable uses such schools, parks or day care centres.

With that noted, the location needs to be accessible to those who would eventually be taking advantage of it.

“If zoning regulations are proposed to restrict SIS consideration should be given to areas with existing populations with a higher rate of substance use since clients will not use a facility if it is located too far away from where they reside.”

The report also notes that if a future site were to be located in Oshawa, staff do not anticipate an increase in crime in the area or an influx of drug related litter. To this end, Oshawa used the example of the prominent Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The clinic is the only one in Canada to provide medical-grade heroin, and by all accounts has had a positive impact on the area.

“Their experience has shown that the Crosstown site has had a positive impact in the community such as less overdoses, less discarded needles and less criminal activity within a five block radius of the SIS facility,” the staff report reads. “The facility has strong community relations in the area which can be attributed to public education and keeping people informed.”

The Oshawa zoning review followed direction from Mayor John Henry in August of last year in response to a federal bill that amended the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDA), which made it easier for communities to obtain approval to operate an SIS, an exemption for which is required under the CDSA.

The review has also gained further significance after Ontario released new regulations in December that allowed the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care to give permission to establish temporary Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS). These locations, akin to one operating in Toronto’s Moss Park, provide supervised injection, while also administering naloxone, a life-saving drug, in the event of an overdose.

Currently, Durham Health, Lakeridge Health’s Pinewood Addiction Services, and the John Howard Society are exploring the feasibility of such an OPS site in Durham.

At this point, Oshawa staff say it is premature to put forward any potential locations for an SIS, but suggest that Pinewood, Glazier Medical Centre or the Oshawa Clinic would be potential spots.