Overdose Prevention Ottawa closing pop-up injection site at Raphael Brunet Park

Overdose Prevention Ottawa says it is closing down its pop-up supervised drug consumption site at Raphael Brunet Park, in Lowertown, this week.

The controversial site had been operating since August 25, with no formal approval from Health Canada like other supervised injection sites in the city. Organizers cited local bylaw exemptions and the federal Good Samaritan Overdose Act as justification for operating.

In a statement issued Tuesday, OPO says, “thanks to our efforts there are now two supervised injection services operating within two blocks of our site.” The opening of the sites – at the Ottawa Public Health office on Clarence Street and the Shepherds of Good Hope on King Edward Avenue – has warranted “a reconsideration of the need for our services in Lowertown,” OPO said.

In the time the site has been operating, OPO says they had “3445 visits, reversed five overdoses with naloxone, and prevented hundreds more through various interventions.”

OPO thanked volunteers and members of the community who donated money, food, and supplies for their help.

But the statement wasn’t all glowing. OPO said they are “angry and ashamed by the responses by each level of government to this ongoing emergency.” The group names the actions of Mayor Jim Watson, Rideau-Vanier councillor Mathieu Fleury and Ontario Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins as “particularly reprehensible.”

“[They] profess to take action to address the overdose emergency in one breath and then deny services to people who use drugs in another,” the OPO statement says.

Watson has said he wanted to focus on Health Canada-approved sites. He and Police Chief Charles Bordeleau have been at odds over the responsibility for closing down the site. Neither acted to shut the site down in the two months it has been open. Fleury had met with OPO staff in October, but was always opposed to the site being in Raphael Brunet Park. Hoskins had offered winterization supplies for OPO, as the Ministry did for a similar site in Toronto, but he said the City did not agree to the offer, a claim Watson has publicly denied.

Ottawa Public Health has told CFRA their Site Needle and Syringe Program mobile van "has been at the pop-up site location and has supplied the organization with harm reduction supplies."

OPO says they are not going away, but will transition into a second phase of advocacy and service delivery.

“We will continue to monitor and respond to the needs for overdose prevention services throughout the City of Ottawa and take steps to ensure the health and well-being of those who are most at risk of preventable death,” the statement says.

The group wants to see an expansion of supervised consumption services. Particularly inhalation services. "Safer inhalation services, like the kind provided by Overdose Prevention Ottawa, are an essential and currently lacking service in this city," OPO says.