February 12, 2015

Residents' work on Supervised Injection Services report

Drug Consumption Room in Vancouver

SISs provide users with a safe, clean environment supervised by health care professionals.

Supervised Injection Services (SISs) are nowhere to be found in Ontario, but that hasn’t stopped a panel of 34 residents from coming together and creating a report to guide policy-makers should SISs come to the province in the future.

The Toronto Residents’ Reference Panel on Supervised Injection Services report, which was funded by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and commissioned by West Neighbourhood House (WNH), a non-profit social service agency, aims to discuss the implications and prospective community concerns of SISs.

SISs provide a safe alternative to drug use in public places, where drug users are supervised by health care professionals in clean environment, in order to reduce the chance of death from accidental overdose and decrease the occurrence of street use.

“It’s such a potentially volatile issue, but it’s a really important public policy issue at the same time,” said Maureen Fair, the executive director at WNH.

“Before there is an active SISs application, it was thought by a number of people in the health community that it would be a good idea to get ahead of the game on this. This is all a preliminary step to the consideration and decisions to SISs coming to Ontario, specifically Toronto.”

The report issued last month used Toronto’s drug strategy and peer-reviewed research to form the basis of the report.

In order for SISs to operate legally in Ontario the federal health minister of Canada must offer an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), and according to the report both the federal government and the Supreme Court of Canada have taken up the issue and the importance of community input on the issue.

Although specific sites weren’t discussed during the meeting, the reference panel agreed the location of a SISs should be within existing health care facilities and there should be regular opportunities for community input, in order to build trust between community members and service providers.

The report offered potential community concerns regarding SISs, which include whether or not the service is effective at all. According to Fair, the panel agreed there is strong evidence SISs have positive health benefits for people.

“It reduces overdose deaths, HIV, Hep. C and infections. It’s also a good avenue to treatment and encourages people to reduce, and try to find ways to help the person manage their addiction,” Fair said.

“It’s establishing a link to health professionals who are making sure they’re injecting safely and keep an eye on things. That starts a relationship that can help create pathways to treatment, which is obviously another really good outcome.”

Other concerns stated were its impact on public safety, particularly children, the surrounding neighbourhood and drug use in society.

Although the report doesn’t choose a side regarding whether SISs should operate in Toronto, it solely focuses on describing how Toronto residents believe the public should be consulted and how their concerns will be addressed.

This includes the recommendations that: a SIS requires community input, but not consent; the service should be located within an existing heal care facility; any SIS established in Toronto should be part of a balanced and coordinated approach to drug use; the first SIS should be executed with high public transparency and oversight; and any SIS established in Toronto should consult local residents about the perceived negative consequences of a SIS and measures that could address them.

According to Fair, the report has already gone to the provincial government for them to look over if an application for a SISs comes forward, in order to make a balanced decision that takes into consideration the diverse view points of the community.

“This is all a preliminary step to the consideration and decision to a SIS (possibly) coming to Ontario, specifically Toronto,” Fair said.

“We believe there will be organizations looking to bring SIS to Toronto. There is a need for this.”

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