Changes to the way safe-injection sites are licensed and funded will have wide-ranging effects on the four locations operating in Ottawa, according to Rob Boyd, director of harm reduction at the Sandy Hill Community Centre.
Sandy Hill was among Ottawa’s first safe-injection sites, which were opened in a bid to help combat the opioid crisis.
Boyd said news that the provincial government wants sites to include, as a longer-term goal, helping drug users receive treatment and rehabilitation services, will require the facilities to re-apply to the province in order to see their funding continue.
In its announcement, delivered Monday morning by Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, the province also stated that it wants to see no more than 21 overdose prevention sites in operation in Ontario.
“This affects everybody who is operating. Everybody is going to need to re-apply to the provincial government for funding,” said Boyd. “The opiate crisis is something happening throughout Ontario; 21 would not be sufficient. Ontario is a big province with a lot of geography. I think we need to continue to work with the government around new communities and new models of service delivery.”
It’s too early to tell whether all of Ottawa’s four safe-injection sites will be permitted to continue operating under the province’s new funding model.
The fate of Ontario’s safe-injection and overdose-prevention sites has been in limbo since the summer. During the spring election campaign, Premier Doug Ford had said he was opposed to safe-injection and overdose-prevention sites, though his party subsequently said Ford was committed to reviewing evidence on the issue.
After being elected, the Progressive Conservatives paused the planned openings of several sites as they reviewed the future of the program, a move that drew criticism from harm-prevention workers and many in the medical community.
Overdose-prevention sites are temporary facilities approved by the province following a federal decision to grant an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Safe-injection sites, meanwhile, are more permanent locations approved by the federal government after a more extensive application process. They are also funded by the province.
Both types of facilities will need to re-apply to the province in the weeks ahead.
Advocates for the facilities said shutting down the sites would be a major step back in fighting an opioid crisis that health officials say claimed nearly 4,000 lives across Canada last year.