Volume 12 Week 5

Monday, Nov. 20


Posted Oct. 25

Posted Sept. 21

Posted July 20

survey solution

Orléans Ward
Bob Monette

Beacon Hill,
Cyrville Ward
Tim Tierney





In conversation with Overdose Prevention Ottawa co-organizer Melanie Jubinville-Stafford

Melanie 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.

Q) I guess the first question is why establish a pop-up overdose prevention site in downtown Ottawa?

A) 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 overdose prevention.

Q) Are you making a difference?

A) 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.

Q) What are some of the more common misconceptions about the pop-up site?

A) 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.

Another 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.

A 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 of trauma.

Q) The city recently opened a sanctioned safe injection site near the pop-up site. Doesn’t that make your site redundant?

A) 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.

Overdose 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 death.

Q) What’s next?

A) 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.

Despite 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.

FS – 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.

(If you wish to comment on this or any other View Point column please write to Fred Sherwin at fsherwin@magma.ca)

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