Kitchener, Waterloo & Cambridge Area

29 Young Street East
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 2L4 (Google Map)
Telephone: 519-603-0223
Fax: 519-888-6422
Email: info@sanguen.com

Wellington, Dufferin & Guelph Area

176 Wyndham Street North
Guelph, Ontario N1H 8N9 (Google Map)
Telephone: 877-351-9857
Fax: 519-888-6422
Email: info@sanguen.com

News

OPS + SIS

Like many people in our community, the entire Sanguen team knows that Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) and Supervised Injection/Consumption Services (SIS or SCS) are needed in Waterloo Region.

We know this because the research and statistics paint a very clear picture of the lives we have lost and the deaths that could have been prevented. The research also showed that people who take drugs would use OPS/SIS sites if they were available.

On April 4th, our founder and Executive Director, Dr. Chris Steingart, spoke to members of Region Council and the public at an information night about Supervised Injection/Consumption Services.

Here’s what he said:

My name is Dr. Chris Steingart. I’m here this evening to speak in support of bringing supervised injection sites to the Region of Waterloo, and I thank you for your time and this opportunity.

I’m the founder and Executive Director of the Sanguen Health Centre, a community-based organization that we started in order to help people living with hepatitis C. Myself and our team of nurses, outreach workers, social workers, and peers work at locations in Waterloo, Kitchener, Cambridge, and Guelph, and, as many of you know, we also have community health vans that are on the street in these communities. I am here as a representative of Sanguen as an organization who, along with our community partners, recognize the vital need for SIS, along with other interventions, to prevent overdose deaths.

We realized as an agency, a long time ago, that many people living with hepatitis C also experience other difficulties and problems, such as poverty, unstable housing, mental health issues, and illegal drug use, and our team now spends a considerable amount of its time and energy in a desperate attempt to keep people alive in the setting of this opioid crisis, which has become an almost overwhelming and unimaginable public health catastrophe. I use these dramatic words as someone who, along with the other members of our team, on a daily basis speak with and try to help people who are at risk of overdose. We’ve had too many of our folks experience overdose, some multiple times, and too many have died. I want this to stop. This has got to stop.

On a personal note, as mentioned I live in Waterloo, and work in Waterloo, Kitchener, Cambridge, and Guelph. My wife and I have raised our family here. I love this region, and I plan to spend the rest of my life here. It’s fair to say that I am heavily invested in these communities, both personally and professionally, and in the health and well being of the people who live here

Believe me, I understand the concerns of those who have raised opposition to supervised injection sites, and other harm reduction practices, in our communities. I believe it’s important to acknowledge the reasons for this opposition. I’ve spent a lot of time in my practice and in leading our organization, wrestling with how best to help people who are at risk of drug overdose. I used to think that abstinence was the only solution to someone with a “drug problem, that “just say no” was a reasonable response to drug use. I was wrong.

Years of experience, and the medical literature, have shown me that these views were wrong. Addiction is an extremely complex issue, unique for every individual affected, and there are no clear-cut solutions. I often hear, and have personally considered questions like “Doesn’t harm reduction enable or encouraged drug use?” or “Won’t a supervised injection site lead to increased crime, and more needles laying around?” I’ve learned that the answer to these questions is unequivocally “no” – harm reduction practices in general, and SIS specifically, have clearly and unequivocally been shown to reduce overdosed deaths, to reduce the transmission of hepatitis C and HIV, to increase the likelihood that someone who uses illegal drugs will seek help for their addiction, reduce the number of needles in the streets and crime in the area, and can be beneficial not only to those who use illegal drugs and are at risk of overdose, but also to the community as a whole. You have heard from people who don’t acknowledge the overwhelming evidence, or who relay anecdotal reports that seem to support contrary views. The real evidence, however, is clear.

I also understand that SIS is not the solution to the drug overdose problem. The experience in British Columbia, where overdose rates have continued to increase despite the presence of multiple SIS and OPS tells us that more needs to be done. Supervised drug use has to be part of a multifaceted approach, which includes immediate access to treatment, access to mental health services, access to primary care and specialty care [such as for treatment of HCV and HIV], and access to other support services. We envision a site where people who use drugs will have these opportunities, a “wrap-around” approach.

The unavoidable fact is, people are dying, and more people are going to die, and it is absolutely imperative that we move forward on bringing SIS to this area to help prevent some of these deaths. We have to accept that there are a lot of people in our communities who, for any of a number of complex reasons, either will not or absolutely cannot stop using drugs that put them at risk of overdose. These people are our brothers and sisters, our daughters and sons, our parents, our grandparents, our coworkers, acquaintances and friends, and the reality is this need to use drugs isn’t going to change today. And the supply of drugs available to these people is dangerous and toxic and the combination of this ongoing need and this dangerous drug supply means that we are going to continue to lose more people. We have to do everything in our power, including SIS, to save lives.

The decision to bring supervised injection sites to this region is to some difficult and controversial, and I accept that. But it is necessary, and the decision must start with the acceptance that the people whose lives are at risk are members of our community and who deserve every opportunity for a safe, healthy life. These sites can help provide people with that opportunity.

Please, choose to move this along to the next step, and let’s figure out how to get it done the right way, in a way that properly balances the needs of those at risk of overdose death and the needs of the community as a whole.

For anyone who wishes to speak with me or a member of my team about harm reduction or safe injection sites, to ask questions or to just voice their perspective, whenever it is, I will do everything I can to make the time to do that. I want this council and this community to know that the Sanguen Health Centre, and our community partners, will do everything we can to make these SIS’s something that benefit the community as a whole, and that the process will be, as it has been, open, and transparent, and that we’ll do everything that we can to address the concerns of the community going forward.

Thank you.

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