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ottawasun.com, January 24, 2013

Ottawa: Centretown clinic investigates safe injection sites

A community health centre spent $9,000 on a fact-finding trip to Europe to study the impact of safe injection sites.

Two volunteer board members and one staffer from the Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) made the trip this winter despite previous statements from Mayor Jim Watson and Police Chief Charles Bordeleau that injection sites wouldn't be welcome in the city.

The trio visited Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Frankfurt at a cost of $3,000 each, which the centre's executive director Jack McCarthy was paid for by a reserve fund for special projects, and not with taxpayer dollars.

The Somerset receives more than 60% of its funding from the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) as well as a portion from the City of Ottawa, according to the organization's 2011-2012 annual report. The centre provides primary health care and community-based services in Centretown.

“I think our intent is to educate people,” McCarthy told the Sun Thursday. “Facts drives discussion.”

McCarthy said the cash used to pay for the trip was held in a reserve built through donations and leftover cash “not recoverable (by) a funder.”

The fund is used for some charitable functions like Christmas lunches and for emergency repairs.

“No money came from the LHIN or from the city or from any of our major funders,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said the area of Europe was chosen because of the large number of safe injection sites. With 37 locations in the Netherlands alone, the SWCHC saw a better opportunity for research compared to areas like Vancouver.

“If 37 communities in the Netherlands can do it ... supported by police and local health officials and local politicians, then I think it's something we've got to think about,” he said.

McCarthy understands some of the opposition.

“It's often counterintuitive to people's thinking,” he said.

“Community reaction initially to these kinds of things is often not positive and people have a lot of concerns.”

Ottawa Public Health said the issue of safe injection sites is “complex.”

“Ottawa Public Health has no plans to open a supervised injection site in Ottawa,” said associate Medical Office of Health Dr. Vera Etches.

Etches said the Ontario HIV/AIDS Treatment Network plans to strike a working group to discuss the recomendations of installing the injection sites in Ottawa and Toronto.

Otherwise, any guidance Public Health seeks on the issue will come from the provincial and federal governments.

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