Overdose Prevention Ottawa stands in solidarity with those fighting the prison-industrial-complex

Those working in policing, the courts, and sites of confinement are among many within the prison-industrial-complex (PIC) that turn a profit through the criminalization and punishment of populations pushed to the margins in our unceded and unsurrendered communities, province, and country. The war on drugs brings some drug producers, salespersons, and users into conflict with the law unnecessarily and creates more harm to individuals and communities than benefits. The war on drugs is central to Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) actors making money off human misery. Every year in Canada, the PIC devours over $20 billion in funds that could be spent on bettering society by ending poverty, expanding access to education, health and mental health care, housing, and other basic necessities of life. We should be divesting from the PIC and its role in sustaining a flawed, inhumane, unjust, and costly drug prohibition model that is damaging and killing people, both young and old. Consider these Canadian (in)justice trends from 2014-2015:

  • Alleged drug offences accounted for 9.7% of all adult charges by the police.
  • Drug charges accounted for 6.8% of cases before adult courts, with possession allegations accounting for nearly two-thirds of those cases.
  • In cases where people were convicted and sentenced to time in a provincial or territorial prison, it cost an average of $198.50 per day or $72,452.50 per year to incarcerate just one prisoner.    
  • In cases where people are convicted and sentenced to time in a federal penitentiary, it costs an average of $301.94 per day or $110,208.10 per year to incarcerate just one prisoner.    

This is a time of grave injustice. As the municipal government fails to reign in the budget of the Ottawa Police Service, the provincial government pursues an uninformed plan to build a new and bigger jail to replace the Innis Road jail, and the federal government refuses to decriminalize drugs in the midst of an opioid crisis that has taken thousands of lives, Overdose Prevention Ottawa stands in solidarity with all groups – local, national and international – that are fighting the PIC and seeking an end to the war on drugs. We commit to working alongside all those involved in building a more compassionate world where social harm is met with non-violent, collective, healing, and transformative justice.

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STATEMENT: OPO transitioning to the second phase of advocacy and service delivery.

It is with heavy hearts that Overdose Prevention Ottawa share that we are closing the service we have provided on the patch of grass located at 307 St. Patrick Street since August 25, 2017. In over two months, we have had 3445 visits, reversed five overdoses with naloxone, and prevented hundreds more through various interventions, including enhanced monitoring, providing a safe space for people to consume drugs, to be able to take their time, and experience connection and belonging within the community.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa provided the first public safe space in our city for people to use drugs, primarily through injection and inhalation. At that time, there were no harm reduction services that provided a space for people to safely consume drugs. We have built relationships of trust with people, the building blocks of healing deep wounds. Every day, our guests tell us that they and their friends are alive because of our services.

In just over two months, we have accomplished much to make our city safer for people who use drugs, to combat stigma and criminalization, and fix some of the many gaps in the healthcare system. For 74 days, we have operated without any support from any level of government. It is only through the tireless efforts of our more than 200 volunteers, and through the donations of thousands of private supporters were we able to stand up where our government had failed so many. It is shameful that so many individuals have had to sacrifice so much to fix that failing. But it is also truly inspiring to see the love, the compassion, and unwavering support of our neighbours in the face of this emergency. We have created a powerful community of advocates and we will continue to use that strength to both demand and actively build a better city for everyone.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa has been successful in our mission to bring accessible, safer consumption services to the area of our city most affected by the overdose emergency. Thanks to our efforts, there are now two supervised injection services operating within two blocks of our site. Although they operate in distinct ways from Overdose Prevention Ottawa, their openings warrant a reconsideration of the need for our services in Lowertown. Through our dedicated service and our advocacy, we have forced harm reduction service providers to respond, and have helped pave a path towards a more equitable healthcare system, one that treats drug users with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Now, we are going to redirect our efforts to address other failings in the healthcare system throughout Ottawa. For that reason, we will be closing the 307 St. Patrick overdose prevention site this week and transitioning to the second phase of advocacy and service delivery. We will continue to monitor and respond to the needs for overdose prevention services throughout the City of Ottawa and take steps to ensure the health and well-being of those who are most at risk of preventable death.

Along with our guests and volunteers, we are angry and ashamed by the responses by each level of government to this ongoing emergency. Overdose Prevention Ottawa operated its service less than two kilometres from Parliament Hill and City Hall, where local and national decisions that, for many people, can mean life or death. Despite that proximity, governments continue to operate largely according to business as usual. Particularly reprehensible are the actions of Mayor Jim Watson, Councillor Mathieu Fleury, and Minister of Health Dr. Eric Hoskins who profess to take action to address the overdose emergency in one breath and then deny services to people who use drugs in another. Canada is facing a preventable health emergency that is driven by prohibition, criminalization, and stigma. We will continue to demand action from federal, provincial, and municipal governments.  These same levels of government and harm reduction organizations have benefitted from Overdose Prevention Ottawa providing this service and doing their work for them.

Significant changes have taken place over the past two months, but much still needs to be done. Safer inhalation services, like the kind provided by Overdose Prevention Ottawa, are an essential and currently lacking service in this city. We have long known that the government and health and social services abandon and criminalize people who use drugs. Overdose Prevention Ottawa stepped in to care for the community. Since these structures have not provided meaningful support for Overdose Prevention Ottawa. They are again abandoning people who use drugs.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa is not going anywhere. We will remain engaged in overdose prevention work and advocacy. We have thrived because of this shared understanding from our supporters and the community. For that, Overdose Prevention Ottawa is forever grateful. We have made long-lasting connections, saved lives and made history together. And we will continue to do so, together.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa

High Winds Not the Only Thing Preventing Access to Life-Saving Services

The high winds mean OPO cannot provide essential health and life-saving services again today. We have notified Ottawa Public Health & Ottawa Inner City Health and will have some volunteers at Raphael Brunet park from 6-9pm.

The cause of this service gap is not the inclement weather, however.

The lack of government support is the real reason for the gaps in overdose prevention services in this city.

Without infrastructure and resource support, our volunteer-based tents cannot open. For the past 67 days, offers of more secure infrastructure could have been made and were not.

There are zero inhalation services in this city meaning our guests have nowhere to go tonight.

Nowhere.

And while we intend to refer guests to OPH’s SIS nearby (179 Clarence St), their limited space (2 injection booths) means many others will also have nowhere to go tonight.

Nowhere.

While buildings sit idle, our beloved guests are left without our support, using without OPO tonight.

This means that our guests may be without naloxone or a friend nearby which can be fatal if an overdose occurs.

To prevent criminalization, our guests may use in a rushed manner and may use more at once than desired in order to not have substance on their person. This can increase the risk for infections and risk of overdose.

Our guests will not be greeted by our volunteers with warm hugs, help with referrals to detox and support services, or non-judgement tonight. They will not have their regular safe space to go get advice or share a laugh. Evidence states the opposite to addiction is connection. Tonight we cannot provide connections or belonging.

The province has not called for a public health emergency which means that exemptions are limited to federal approval. The federal government has taken time to provide these necessary exemptions in Ottawa. Various City of Ottawa staff members have stated that they would be working to ensure a safe indoor location for OPO’s essential health service, and still, we wait.

All levels of government are continuing the deadly war on drug users by refusing to decriminalize all substances.

Instead, our precious guests will be without their place. Again, they will feel abandoned by social services and a government whose purpose should be to help them, including keeping them alive.

While buildings sit idle. While resources could be enhanced. While more could so easily be done.

Instead, we hear silence from our 3 pillars of government.

Again, on our 67th day.

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.

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.