By Dani-elle Dube
May 7th 2015
Supervised Injection Sites, or SIS, has been a contentious issue in Ottawa for almost a decade decade.
Some see them located in Ottawa neighbourhoods as a cause for concern, others see it as a solution to the city’s drug problem.
On Thursday, members of the Participatory Research in Ottawa: Understanding Drugs (or PROUD) released results of their city-wide survey relating to SIS. The study surveyed 858 drug users between March 2013 and January 2014.
The Sun spoke with Chris Dalton, knowledge translation co-ordinator of the study, to discuss the results and what they mean to the study group, drug users and communities.
Q: What do the results of the study show and tell you?
A: The data shows that people in Ottawa who are affected by addiction are the people who want and need these sites in order to feel safe and be healthy by not sharing dirty needles and spreading diseases like HIV or Hepatitis C.
Q: Why does Ottawa need a SIS?
A: Addiction is like any other disease out there. These people have a health problem and they need treatment that is humane, compassionate and proven to work.
Q: The study revealed that 58% of Ottawa drug users felt unsafe in the location they were currently injecting and that 84% would feel safe using an SIS. But what will be done to ensure that the community feels safe?
A: Studies done in Vancouver reported that there was no evidence of increased crime in the area where an SIS was located. Right now what’s going on in our neighbourhoods where there is homelessness and drug use, you’re going to have (an increase in crime) in the public. People are using in public bathrooms, backyards and alleys right now so it’s actually less safe. Education is key and we hope to provide communities with that so misconceptions are avoided and they feel safe.
Q: Almost 40% surveyed said they had used a needle that had been used by someone else before. How will SIS sites make sure that users don’t continue to share needles on the street when they’re not using the services?
A: If we had a 24-hour site open, then the service will always be available with new gear and would help solve a large part of that problem. We see this as an alarming statistic that shows how much we need this service because we don’t believe people will reuse syringes if they’re in a safe and healthy facility with plenty of needles available. People want to be healthy. People don’t want to contract HIV or Hep C, overdose or die. So if we can help them to prevent those things from happening then we’re saving lives.
Q: About 48% of men and 59% of women surveyed said they would use an SIS daily. Is this the solution Ottawa and drug users need as opposed to making more resources available that will help them get clean?
A: Treatment is great for people who want to do it. But if you force people into treatment, often people aren’t successful in the long term. We need to provide a space for people so that, until they’re ready for treatment and decide that’s what they want to do, they can still be safe where they’re using while making healthy choices by using clean gear. But the only choices users have is to stop using and get treatment or to use in the street with dirty needles and get kicked out of the shelters. We need a middle ground that can help and provide services to people who need it.
MORE RESULTS FROM THE STUDY
72% of male participants and 83% of female participants think there should be an SIS in Ottawa
Among the participants who would use an SIS
– 91% of participants had been homeless at one point in their life
– 10% self-reported testing HIV positive
– 70% think there should be an SIS in the Byward Market/Lowertown areas
A follow up study was done in the summer of 2014. It surveyed 136 participants who had injected drugs within the last 30 days.
– 66% injected in public
– 58% felt unsafe due to the location where they were currently injecting