Safe Supply in Ottawa : A Critical Step in the Management of Addictions

Since 2016, Ottawa has been in the middle of an opioid crisis that continues to seriously affect the well-being of individuals and communities. Hospital and policing services are on the frontline of these challenges and have been unsuccessful in curbing the ongoing reality.

Current responses to addictions are costly, and do not address the growing issue of toxic drug use along with the direct impacts felt by businesses and residents. The opioid crisis, and more generally addictions are destructive to communities and their economic well-being due to rising crime and violence associated with consumption. The criminal activity and petty-crime perpetrated to feed addictions impacts all of us, every day.  We collectively pay for the systemic failures of ineffective responses.

While police, health professionals and political leaders have been trying to build a response to this problem, for decades, unrealistic expectations have been placed on police and other enforcement bodies to continually  “arrest their way” out of addictions issues. The current system is not working. We need to turn the page on the war on drugs and move towards a health-led response.

The number of opioid overdoses and deaths is driven by a toxic drug supply which has become more lethal. Traditional approaches to addictions and mental health, which often include abstinence, have proven to be unsuccessful. Newer strategies must be considered to compliment existing approaches. Ongoing investments to support a harm reduction strategy that initially includes providing a safe supply of drugs, need to be supported extensively throughout Ottawa if we are going to have any impact on the opioid crisis that is so adversely affecting users and communities.

Since August 2017, Ottawa Inner City Health has successfully run Canada’s first ever residential Managed Opioid Program (MOP) in Ottawa providing controlled amounts of pharmaceutical-grade prescription oral and injectable narcotics (this prescription of narcotics is referred to as providing a “Safe Supply” or safer opioid substitution), housing, and other supports for 25 individuals who have failed in other approaches of care. The residents participating in this pilot have seen positive outcomes in stabilizing their lives as well as decreasing the need for petty crime in communities.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated the lack of supports for our City’s most vulnerable and has highlighted the vulnerabilities of users while pressures grow on businesses and residents.

On May 27th, Ottawa City Council will vote on Councillor Fleury’s Motion asking the Mayor to write to the provincial and federal health ministers to support the expansion of Safe Supply in Ottawa.  We must go beyond the Ottawa Inner City Health pilot.

If Ottawa wants to see progress in reducing the impact of drug use on communities and better support addictions challenges, we need to listen to medical professionals and our enforcement bodies.  We need local elected representatives to understand the value of Safe Supply and speak up on this important approach for our City. The expansion of Safe Supply in Ottawa is a strong example of an evidence driven and cost efficient strategy. As a City we need to take this critical step.

Doctor Jeff Turnbull (Former Chief of Staff at The Ottawa Hospital)

Senator Vern White (Former City of Ottawa Police Chief)

Mathieu Fleury (City Councillor for Lowertown, Sandy Hill and Vanier)

Pleased to see my Motion pass at Council Mathieu Fleury – Notice of Motion – Safe Supply

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