Community health centres are the right fit for supervised injection services

by Tess Frémont-Côté

In June 2016, the Board of Directors of Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) approved the possible expansion of the Centre’s harm reduction program to include supervised injection services (SIS).

SIS provide a safe space for drug users to inject pre-obtained drugs under medical supervision. Staff do not inject drugs; rather, they are an important point of contact with the health system for injection drug users who are typically not well connected to health care services.

Community Health Centres (CHCs) are the right fit for SIS because not only do we care about improving the health and well-being of all people – including those who use drugs – we also care about the health and safety of our community.

SWCHC and Centretown Community Health Centre (CCHC) believe that every person deserves access to the health services they need to improve their well-being. SIS are evidence-based: they save lives by reducing overdoses – because medical staff are on site to intervene in the case of an overdose – and the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

For people who use drugs, supervised injection improves their well-being because it provides a safe space to inject and to connect with services.

CHCs are a good fit for SIS because the community health centre model of care is inter-professional. This means that clients who use supervised injection could also access a range of other free health and social services on site, such as counseling, mental health support, and medical care.

In addition to improving the safety of individual drug users, evidence shows that SIS can also improve community safety. Research findings demonstrate that SIS decrease public injecting and drug litter.

There is no evidence to suggest that SIS contribute to increased crime. In fact, some studies have reported a decrease in rates of vehicle break-ins, vehicle thefts, robbery and property crimes in the neighbourhoods surrounding supervised injection sites. This was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada when, in 2011, it ruled that SIS decreased the risk of death and disease with no discernible negative impact on the public safety around the site.

Finally, CHCs are strongly rooted in communities and already offer harm reduction services. SWCHC runs the city’s third largest harm reduction program, the Needle Exchange and Safer Inhalation (NESI) program.

NESI has three main goals: to reduce the spread HIV and Hepatitis C, prevent drug overdose deaths, and increase drug users’ contact with health and social services. The program does this by supplying drug users with clean injection and/or inhalation supplies, safely disposing of used equipment, and increasing people’s contact with health services by providing support in a non-judgmental environment.

Adding supervised injection to this range of services would provide greater opportunities for drug users to connect with health care services and support. The operation of SIS would be closely monitored to address ongoing community concerns.

CCHC’s harm reduction services include free safer injection and inhalation supplies, free condoms, and education on safer injecting and safer smoking.

The centre also supports people with lived substance use experience through the community initiative Friends for Safer Use.

The purpose of this group is to build positive relationships with the Dundonald Park community and provide education on harm reduction strategies.

Though CCHC is not currently pursuing an exemption application, the centre supports the applications of SWCHC and Sandy Hill CHC and will explore the idea of offering SIS in the future.

We recognize you may have questions. That’s why SWCHC is hosting two public consultation sessions on March 6 and March 8. Registration is required! For further information, please visit swchc.on.ca/supervised-injection.

This column is a collaboration between the Centretown and Somerset West Community Health Centres (CHCs). They provide a full range of health and social services to individuals and families. Through leadership and support, they foster the active participation of individuals and groups in a common effort to build healthier communities.