Joint Public Statement on Ottawa’s Overdose Prevention Site

Ottawa’s mayor and city council have voiced support for shutting down the city’s peer-run, life-saving overdose prevention site which has seen more than 1,100 visits since first opening. In the context of Canada’s current, unprecedented overdose epidemic, we believe such services must be maintained, and to close them would be both immoral and potentially life-threatening.

To read the joint public statement on Ottawa’s Overdose Prevention Site, click here.

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Overdose Prevention Ottawa to Remain Accessible to Guests Who are Most at Risk of Death

In the midst of tomorrow’s opening of Ottawa Public Health’s (OPH’s) interim Clarence Street supervised injection site, and after taking lengthy consideration of what our guests have told us, it is clear that our work is not over.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO), will continue to serve its guests and deliver its unique model of care as OPH opens its doors.  The temporary site on Clarence Street is a much needed step in the right direction.  We have consulted with our guests since OPH’s announcement weeks ago and a significant number of them have expressed reluctance to access this service.  We have established too much trust and respect with these members of our community to refuse them services and will remain accessible to those most at risk of death.

We look forward to continue working closely with OPH staff to address expressed issues of inaccessibility and hope that the lessons we have learnt from operating Ottawa’s only overdose prevention site, as well as our combined decades of front-line experience, are applied in their practice.

The guiding principle of any effective harm reduction strategy or service must be centred on the experience and wisdom of current and former drug users. For that reason, we expect that OPH will take up the recommendations of their 2014 Harm Reduction Needs Report, specifically the need to “meaningfully engage peers/people with drug using experience in the planning, development, delivery, and evaluation of harm reduction programs and services” (p. 19).

As a meaningfully peer-centered service, OPO’s space allows guests to: use as they normally would, split their drugs, assist each other with safer consumption, walk around while they wait for a space to open up in the tents,  stay in the tents for as long as it takes for them to feel safe, have some nutritious food, be around supportive peers while they are on site, move from an inhalation space to an injection space as many of our guests do, inject multiple times in one sitting, experience human dignity and care, and learn from people with lived experienced who volunteer.

The safety and accessibility of all people who use drugs in our community, including those who are currently barred from surrounding services, is at the centre of what we do. OPO’s protocols are evidence-informed, and our standards and processes are guided by National harm-reduction best practices.

Through our work, we have learnt and demonstrated how to deliver overdose prevention services in a profoundly effective way, preventing overdoses in a multiplicity of ways. It is this unique combination of factors that foster our service to be preventative and not simply reactive.  For example, harm reduction partner agencies and frontline workers who operate and work with people just two blocks away from our site report extremely high rates of overdoses combined with emergency interventions.  In spite of an identical drug supply, and those very same people using at OPO during our hours of operation, we have been able to mitigate the need to intervene with emergency overdose responses. This is a direct result of creating an environment that fosters dignity and comfort where guests determine when they are safe, where the pressures to consume quickly are eliminated, combined with careful monitoring and stimulation by highly trained and experienced volunteers. Each of these elements of our service allows us to mitigate the potentiality for overdoses, or what would normally be emergency overdose interventions.

In contrast, there are several concerning policies directing OPH’s practice.  For example, a “one injection per person per visit within 20 minutes” policy is of deep concern. This policy is an overdose risk, not a means of prevention. A policy refusing assisted injection is also problematic.  An environment forbidding the option of inhaling drugs is also problematic.  Minimal involvement of people who use drugs in service delivery is alarming and problematic.

OPO has been open and hosting guests from 6-9pm at 307 St. Patrick Street since August 25th, 2017. In that time, we have had 1,020 total visits. The need for low barrier accessible services and to the benefits of this evidence-informed model of care is evident.

OPO will remain committed to our guests, and continue to deliver uninterrupted service.  If and when an accessible supervised consumption service becomes available and is accessed by those we serve, we will certainly plan to move our services to the next neighbourhood and respond to those currently grieving overdose losses and facing tragic preventable overdose deaths.

OPO would like to express deep gratitude and thanks for all the support we’ve received including daily onsite donations, supportive words from people passing by, and a group of over one hundred dedicated individuals who volunteer with us, thank you for sustaining and supporting our life-saving service.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa Continues Life-Saving Service on Twentieth day of Operations

On its twentieth day of operation, Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO) continues to provide life-saving harm reduction services to its guests.

OPO applauds the upcoming expedited opening of Sandy Hill Community Centre’s supervised injection service, and yesterday’s announcement that Ottawa Public Health will be opening a satellite supervised injection service on Clarence Street in the coming weeks. We are also encouraged to see Somerset West Community Health Centre’s and Ottawa Inner City Health`s supervised injection service pending approval by Health Canada.

OPO has worked collaboratively with all Ottawa harm-reduction partners and stakeholders since opening and will continue to do so moving forward. As OPO continues to be the only active overdose prevention service coupled with harm reduction services for those most affected by drug prohibition and homelessness, our services will continue operating. OPO is committed to an evidence-based model of care that is demonstrably successful and unique in the City of Ottawa. Decades of advocacy by people who use drugs informed our best practices. Our guests have been clear that what we offer works for them; “this is saving my life” are words we regularly hear from guests using the tents.

OPO provides an essential health service where people feel respected and worthy. In the early days of our operation, one guest demonstrated the essential nature of OPO’s service when she turned to us and asked, “Where have you been all my life?” Open for only 3 hours per day, our service has been accessed 575 times in 19 days of operation. More importantly, we have leveraged and built deep connections with community members, agencies and services who provide us with daily kind words, donations, and gratitude. Last Friday, September 8th, when a few neighbours tried to physically prevent us from opening our service, outstanding community support resulted in no disruption to our regular service.

The overdose emergency facing our city is a direct result of the ongoing war on drug users, neglect of the homeless and those living in deep poverty, and inaction by each level of government. This very inaction and apathy, municipally, provincially, and federally has contributed to a climate where a small minority of residents are able to relentlessly harass our volunteers and our guests while we provide this life-saving service. Despite receiving hundreds of letters of support for our site and a personal invitation to visit our service, Mayor Jim Watson continues to spread misinformation and ignore expert knowledge on the matter. Out of the 25 overdose prevention sites in Canada, no other civic leader, entrusted with the safety and duty of care for citizens, has behaved as recklessly with his own resident’s lives as Mayor Watson. Ignorance and apathy during this crisis are not an option. Overdose Prevention Ottawa is proud of its over 60 volunteers who work tirelessly through this turbulence to maintain a high quality, accessible, and safe service for our guests.

We thank the leadership of agencies who have supported OPO’s action since its opening. OPO will continue to work collaboratively in the transition towards new supervised consumption services in Ottawa. We expect the Clarence Street service to follow harm reduction best practices and to be peer-staffed and peer-responsive, low barrier, meaningfully accessible for people who use drugs, invested in building relationships, and open 7 days a week during the day and evenings.

As details become available on the format and approach of services to be offered by Ottawa Public Health, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, Somerset West Community Health Centre and Ottawa Inner City Health, OPO will continue to advocate and respond to the needs of people who use drugs in Ottawa.

For further media inquiries, please contact us at: overdosepreventionottawa@gmail.com

Warm regards,

Overdose Prevention Ottawa

Twitter: @odpreventionott

Overdose Prevention Ottawa on Facebook https://www.gofundme.com/OverdosePreventionOttawa for donation

About OPO

We are community members, and service providers in Ottawa who have come together to respond to an overdose crisis that has taken so many of our friends and loved ones from us.

This is a health emergency that requires action.

Ethically, we are obligated to respond, we have no other choice. It is shameful that health organizations in our city have not responded to this crisis. And we are obliged to take action.

In the last year, a countless number of pop-up overdose prevention sites have opened without any formal approval. Twenty-four in BC and last week in Toronto’s Moss Park to respond to this crisis. In Vancouver alone, these sites have seen 147,705 visits, and 770 overdoses that were reversed.

We are inspired by the actions taken in these cities and are determined to provide our community with the same life-saving service it needs. We also encourage others, in their communities, to do precisely the same.

We acknowledge that Overdose Prevention Ottawa operates on unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin territory. Those most hit and impacted by this crisis continue to be those marginalized by deep poverty, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and ongoing colonization.

In response, we aim to provide an inclusive space for all members of our community.