The findings of a year-long feasibility study into the issue of setting up supervised injection sites in London will be made public this week.
The Regional HIV/Aids Connection (RHAC) and the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) launched the study just over a year ago to determine whether drug users in London and Thunder Bay, the other city involved in the study, would use the services, and to gather feedback from community stakeholders.
Dr. Thomas Kerr, the study’s principal investigator, will present the report’s findings at an invite-only report launch Wednesday morning at the London Public Library’s Central branch. The findings will be made available online shortly thereafter.
WATCH: Federal government making it easier to open safe injection sites
Federal and provincial politicians are slated to attend the presentation, which will run from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in the Stevenson & Hunt Room at the library. OHTN and RHAC officials and representatives from the Middlesex-London Health Unit and the London Area Network of Substance Users will also be on hand, according to an OHTN media advisory.
Supervised injection sites aim to create a safer environment for drug users by providing clean needles, nurses who can intervene in case of overdose and services that can help with the recovery process. Researchers say the sites can save lives and improve the health of the community by preventing the spread of disease, but many remain opposed to them, concerned about the sites enabling drug use and attracting criminal activity.
Large cities like Toronto and Ottawa have already conducted feasibility studies into this issue, but London and Thunder Bay are the first small to mid-sized cities to conduct one.
Officials surveyed 200 drug injection users in the city for the study, asking them questions including what drugs they used and where, what health precautions they take, how far they would go to get to a safe site, and whether they would use other health services at the same time. The study also consulted with social and health services, emergency services, local government officials, and community members.
The release of the study’s findings come a month after the province pledged to fund three safe injection sites in Toronto at an annual cost of around $1.6 million. According to the city’s acting medical officer of health, Barbara Yaffe, Toronto recorded 45 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2015, compared to 23 deaths the previous year. Provincially, one in every 170 deaths in Ontario is tied to opioid use, with that proportion rising to one in eight deaths among adults aged 25 to 34.
According to the OHTN, ER visits connected to opioid use in London are 1.5 times higher than the national average. The agency says the province’s busiest needle exchange program on a per capita basis is run by RHAC with estimates of close to 6,000 clients.
Two supervised injection sites currently operate in the country, both in Vancouver. On Monday, Health Canada authorized three supervised injection sites in Montreal, bringing the number of sites soon to be operating in Canada up to five. The application for the three sites in Toronto is still being reviewed by the agency, as are applications for two more sites in Vancouver, two in Surrey, B.C., one in Victoria, one in Ottawa, and one for a mobile site in Montreal.
In December, the Trudeau government announced Bill C-37 in a bid to make it easier for communities to set up supervised injection sites and to crack down on illicit shipments of the deadly opioid fentanyl.
The bill, currently before the House Standing Committee on Health, makes changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, stripping much of the red tape that comes along with establishing supervised injection sites. It also allows border guards to inspect ultralight packages if it is suspected the packages contain illegal drugs.
With files from Matthew Trevithick, Jacquelyn LeBel of AM980, Adam Miller of Global News, and The Canadian Press