Mackie ponders operating illegal injection site if extension denied – The London Free Press
If senior levels of government won’t grant London an extension to operate its temporary overdose prevention site past the August deadline, the region’s health unit and its partners may consider running it illegally.
That was the word from Dr. Chris Mackie, chief executive of the Middlesex-London Health Unit, at a Thursday night meeting where he asked the board to back his request to prolong operations at the temporary site where Londoners can use drugs under medical supervision and access support services.
“This is a service that many, many people in our community are depending on and using on a regular basis,” Mackie said. “If it weren’t there, people would struggle to find where to do this safely, and I think businesses in the community would notice an increase in problems with people trying to find those places.”
He said both the health unit and the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, the agency that runs the site, would have to have serious conversations about the implications of shutting down or continuing to operate if approvals aren’t granted for an extension.
But Mackie stressed that he is hopeful an extension will be approved before Aug. 15.
There are two options for prolonging the life of the temporary overdose prevention site past its Aug. 15 deadline. The first is to request a three-month extension from the provincial government. But there’s also the possibility that the federal government would approve the temporary location at 186 King St. site as an “interim” location while the permanent supervised consumption sites are built.
The board voted unanimously to pursue both avenues.
The city’s temporary overdose prevention site — basically a short-term version of the permanent supervised injection sites health officials hope to open in London soon — was the first in the province.
More than 1,500 different people have used the site — injecting almost 5,000 times altogether — since it opened at 186 King St. in February. Staff on site used life-saving Naloxone in response to one overdose, and five other people were treated with oxygen. Close to 100 people who used the site have been connected with social services in the city, including addiction treatment and mental health counselling.
“We’re very happy with the uptake there. That has become a pipeline for connecting people with services,” Mackie told the board, noting the site is crucial for building trust among vulnerable individuals.
Those relationships between staff and clients at the temporary site help make it possible to refer drug users to mental health, addiction and housing support services.
“Every time that referral happens it’s potentially a life-saving intervention,” Mackie said.
The board also voted Thursday to invite Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care to come to London and tour the facility.
If all goes well, the temporary overdose prevention site will continue to operate in London until the permanent supervised consumption facilities are up and running.
London’s application for two permanent sites – one in a SoHo public housing building, the other on York Street across from the Men’s Mission – already has financial backing from the provincial health ministry.
But it’s Health Canada, a federal agency, that has the final say on London’s application to open supervised consumption sites at 241 Simcoe St. and 446 York St.
City council approved those sites in principle in a symbolic vote back in May. But both locations, if approved by the federal government, will require a zoning bylaw amendment to allow drug use on the property.
That process includes a chance for neighbours to share their input on the sites before it goes to politicians for a final decision.
And the public debate over those locations has been intense. Business owners near the York Street site have expressed concern about security, and many residents at 241 Simcoe St. have mobilized to oppose the site, including organizing a protest to the steps of city hall in May.
Others support the supervised sites, including the SoHo Community Association, and hundreds of Londoners who have signed an online petition and written letters to city council emphasizing the importance of the supervised facilities, not just as a safe place to use drugs, but as a place to get connected with treatment and other support services.
BY THE NUMBERS
4,791: Supervised injections at the temporary site since it opened in February.
78: The highest number of visits in one day.
55: Average visits each weekday.
31: People connected with Addiction Services Thames Valley for help.
7: Clients referred to hospital.