Councillor calls for expansion of 'Safe Supply' of drugs in Ottawa

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An Ottawa Councillor wants to expand a program that provides a safe supply of drugs to people with addictions to more people in Ottawa.

In August 2017, Dr. Jeff Turnbull and Ottawa Inner City Health launched Canada’s first residential “Managed Opioid Program,” providing controlled amounts of pharmaceutical-grade narcotics, housing and other supports to 25 individuals. The “Safe Supply” of drugs is referred to as a prescription for narcotics.

On Wednesday, Mathieu Fleury will present a motion to Council, asking Mayor Jim Watson to write to the provincial and federal health ministers to implement and fund the expansion of “Safe Supply” in Ottawa to provide immediate supports to people who use drugs.

The Rideau-Vanier Councillor's motion notes the COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated the lack of supports for Ottawa's most vulnerable and also highlighted the vulnerabilities in communities where petty crimes and panhandling are main sources of income to fuel addictions. 

In an interview with CTV News Ottawa, Fleury says Ottawa Inner City Health and Dr. Turnbull have run a “successful” program with 25 clients who were homeless and injecting drugs multiple times a day, “they were overdosing, they were also committing petty crime, they had erratic behaviour in our community.”

Now, it is time to expand the program and make it permanent.

“Those 25 individuals are using less drugs. They’re going to a pharmacy, getting a prescription and the drugs they’re using is clean, and they’re using less of it every day,” Fleury said.

“Their life has been stabilized; they’re costing a lot less money to government because they have the supports they needed. Some of them have found permanent housing and are looking for employment.”

Fleury says the “time has come” to expand the pilot project for “Safe Supply” and make it an official program.

Fleury’s motion notes local drug checking data from the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre indicates that 96.7 per cent of drugs brought as opioids and 42.2 per cent of drugs bought as stimulants contain illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogues or other synthetic opioids.

Fleury tells CTV News Ottawa the “Safe Supply” program helps remove the stigma of drugs in our community.

“The reality is collectively as a society we have no issues with medical professionals prescribing you the medications you need,” Fleury said.

“But those who suffer from addictions they’re anything but. They require the use of their drugs to, in many cases, stay alive and in other cases feed the addiction. And everything they do in their daily lives impacts you as a resident, impacts you as a business, and impacts our overall cost of services.”

Fleury says as a society, we are “reactive” to the costs associated with drug use, including paramedic and hospital costs and legal costs.

“This approach really is proactive, and it removes a lot of pressure we would have on local businesses and residents.”