conversation with Overdose Prevention Ottawa co-organizer
Jubinville-Stafford is a one of 12 core organizers with
Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO). She is also a resident
of Orléans. As of last Friday, the site, which is only
open three hours a day, has received more than 2,000 visits.
I recently sat down with Melanie to get a better understanding
of the site, the work they are doing there and why it
is so important.
I guess the first question is why establish a pop-up overdose
prevention site in downtown Ottawa?
Because people are dying from preventable overdose deaths
in our community. This a health crisis, a result of political
decisions that continue to treat people who use drugs
as disposable. OPO was started by people in grief & angry
at the fatal injustice. OPO consists of over 160 active
volunteers, including people with lived experience, nurses,
harm-reduction workers & academics all trained in enhanced
Are you making a difference?
Since we’ve opened, we’ve had more than 2,000 unique visits.
Many factors are at play in overdose prevention which
makes it difficult to quantify exactly how many overdoses
have been prevented. Our volunteers medically monitor
and intervene with our guests for long periods on a daily
basis. We’ve had four incidences where Naloxone was used,
which means that four overdoses were reversed at OPO.
What are some of the more common misconceptions about
the pop-up site?
An impactful misconception is that the site is illegal.
The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act of May 2017 allows
for individuals to help prevent drug overdoses. Health
Canada does not currently have a way for safer consumption
sites to be sanctioned, so pop-up sites like ours which
offer both safer injection and safer inhalation spaces
are necessary health services that remain unsanctioned
across the country.
misconception is that the site promotes criminality. People’s
lives matter more than antiquated prohibition. We believe
that people who use drugs deserve the same evidence informed
health care as all other Canadians.
third misconception is that the local community wants
the city to shut us down. The reality is that a majority
of the local residents understand what we are doing. They’ve
donated hundreds of dollars. Supportive neighbours stop
by the tent on a daily basis, to cheer us on, give us
food and handwritten letters of encouragement. Most people
who live in the area understand the complexity of the
issue, and know that we can’t criminalize our way out
The city recently opened a sanctioned safe injection site
near the pop-up site. Doesn’t that make your site redundant?
Ottawa Public Health and Overdose Prevention Ottawa work
in collaboration, we see our services as complimentary
and know that some people who use drugs will sometimes
be more comfortable going to 179 Clarence and sometimes
be more comfortable coming to OPO. OPH offers an indoor
comprehensive safer injection medical space.
Prevention Ottawa offers a safer consumption space. OPO
has 15 volunteers who run the site, which includes volunteers
from all over the city who donate snacks and cook up a
nutritious meal every night. Many of our volunteers have
been closely impacted by an overdose loss, and see their
time at OPO as healing. Overdose Prevention Ottawa favours
a peer-centered model, where our practices & policies
were designed by and for people who use drugs, which enhances
accessibility for people who are most at risk of overdose
We know that the people we are hosting deserve somewhere
where they can feel safe and where their health care needs
can be met with compassion. We know that if we disappear,
people who use their drugs through inhalation will have
no other place to go. In British Columbia where 24 out
of Canada’s 26 pop-up sites are, the provincial health
authorities embraced overdose prevention sites as essential
parts of an effective Opioid Crisis response. The city
of Toronto responded to its pop-up site in Moss Park by
offering an indoor space. In Ottawa, there is still a
lot of groundwork to be done for our politicians to understand
the real impacts of prohibition and enforcement based
responses to drug use.
decades of advocacy and research proving its effectiveness,
harm-reduction is still misunderstood. Guests at Overdose
Prevention Ottawa are residents with rich beautiful complex
lives. They are harm-reduction experts and Overdose Prevention
Ottawa is listening.
– Thank you for taking the time to help set the record
straight and explaining to our readers why the site is
so important to the community.
you wish to comment on this or any other View Point column
please write to Fred Sherwin at email@example.com)
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