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Jan Ravensbergen, Montreal Gazette: Montreal’s first safe-injection site could arrive in 2012, Insite series 2 of 5

Montreal’s first safe-injection site could arrive in 2012, Insite series 2 of 5
by Jan Ravensbergen, September 30, 2011

MONTREAL – Montreal’s first supervised-injection site for addicts who shoot cocaine, heroin and a range of crushed and diluted prescription drugs into their veins could be established “sometime in 2012,” Louis Letellier de St-Just said after the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its landmark ruling on the subject Friday.

Another substantial obstacle remains – locking in the provincial health-care funding that would be required to run it, the chair of the board of directors of Cactus Montréal added.

Cactus opened North America’s first needle exchange here, in 1989.

In late summer, Letellier de St-Just said, his group finalized an operating plan for such a safe-injection site.

It would be located at its Sanginet St. headquarters, near the corner of Ste. Catherine St. E. in the city’s downtown.

The plan had been under development since 2007, he said.

The facility could be opened perhaps a month or two after an operating budget of “about $300,000 a year” could be obtained, he suggested.

It would provide five or six seats and require a staff of 3.5 medical nurses on a full-time-equivalent basis:

“Most of the money would go for salaries.”

“We could go as high as 100 injections a day,” he said – far smaller than the Insite clinic in east-side Vancouver, over which Canada’s top court made its landmark ruling.

The Cactus needle exchange operates a Good Neighbours Committee to deal with concerns of area residents, merchants, police and others, he said.

There are an estimated 25,000 users in Montreal of illegal drugs injected intravenously, Letellier de St-Just said. Other estimates vary.

The common term for them – one he shied away from utilizing – is junkies.

A working group of community organizations aimed at establishing multiple safe-injection facilities in the city – as opposed to the centralized Insite model in Vancouver, operating since 2002 – was formed last January.

It is headed by Dr. Richard Lessard, who also heads the Montreal Public Health Department.

“We are all working together,” Letellier de St-Just said.

Lessard said the Cactus safe-injection project is among “five or six proposals” the working group is currently studying, from a variety of standpoints including logistics and public acceptability.

The driving force behind such clinics from a public-health standpoint is harm reduction, Lessard said.

The group’s report will likely be issued in December, he added.

Funding for such clinics would come from the Quebec Health Ministry, which has said it was awaiting the court ruling.

There are currently eight or so street-level needle-exchange sites operating in the city, Letellier de St-Just said, largely in the downtown and east end.

With Friday’s ruling, he said, “safe-injection sites are now fully legally recognized.”

Henceforth, he explained, the federal health minister generally “won’t have a choice” when asked by groups which want to start a safe-injection site for an exemption required under Section 56 of the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Officials authorized to speak on behalf of several other needle-exchange groups Montreal – including Spectre de rue, Dopamine and Plein-Milieu – weren’t immediately available for comment on the court ruling or their safe-injection-site plans.

However, staff fielding phone calls at those sites expressed delight with the development.

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