Visits to Montreal’s 4 supervised drug injection sites double since last summer

The drugs must be prescribed by a trained medical professional.
The drugs must be prescribed by a trained medical professional. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Monthly visits to Montreal’s four, supervised drug-injection facilities have more than doubled since they opened last summer and crime rates have not increased in the neighbourhoods that host the sites, according to a new report by city health authorities.

There were about 1,200 visits to the four sites during their first full month of operation last July, while visits jumped to more than 2,500 in April and May of this year.

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Sandhia Vadlamudy, director of CACTUS Montreal, which operates one of the injection sites, said in an interview Tuesday the program has been a “very great success.”

“We’re very satisfied because we have been able to save lives which is our main goal,” she said.

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“We’ve also been there at the most crucial moments when a person does their injection so we’ve been able to accompany and support people when they need it the most.”

Supervised injection sites offer people a place to consume hard drugs under medical supervision.

The report by Montreal’s public health department says a total of 876 people made use of the four sites between June 19, 2017 and May 31, 2018, for a total of 21,265 visits.

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But Vadlamudy admitted the past 12 months weren’t problem-free for CACTUS, a community group that’s been working with drug users for almost 30 years.

“We’ve had moments when we had to call emergency services,” she said.

“There were important episodes of overdoses or cases of psychological distress.”

Three of Montreal’s supervised drug-injection sites, including CACTUS, are located at fixed locations around the downtown area while the fourth is inside a vehicle that drives around the city in order to reach drug users where they are located.

City police have noted that contrary to the fears of critics of the sites, crimes rates have not increased in the neighbourhoods that host the three fixed facilities.

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“The Montreal police service noticed that events linked to crime are comparable to previous years in the sectors where supervised injection services are offered,” Police Cmdr. Simon Durocher said in a statement that accompanied the health report.

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Vadlamudy said CACTUS will be implementing a new program within the next few weeks, which allows users’ friends to accompany them into the drug-injecting room.

“(It) means that a peer, not somebody from the CACTUS team, not a nurse, not a community worker, but a peer will be allowed to assist another person during their injection which is an obstacle for many users — especially women,” she added.

The report notes 83 per cent of those who use the facilities are men and 70 per cent of total users of the four sites have been injecting for five years or longer.

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Most visitors to the supervised injection facilities are between the ages of 20 and 49.

Montreal became the second Canadian city after Vancouver to offer locations for people to inject hard drugs under medical supervision.

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Carole Morissette, a public health official, points out in the report there are about 30 similar sites across Canada.