OTTAWA –Health Canada has authorized three supervised injection sites in Montreal as the federal government looks to address the opioid crisis.
One site will be located in Montreal’s Hochelaga–Maisonneuve district and two will be in Ville–Marie, the department said Monday.
“This will have an important impact and it will absolutely save lives,” Health Minister Jane Philpott said outside the House of Commons.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, a former Liberal cabinet minister, has been a longtime advocate of supervised injection sites for his city and raised the issue during the last federal election campaign.
He said Monday it is a controversial issue and there will always be opponents, but it’s also a matter of public safety.
“This is something that could work,” he said. “I’m willing to have that capacity, to have that transition to help people who are suffering and need help.”
Canada currently has two drug injection sites –both in Vancouver –and existing laws allow such sites to operate only in exceptional circumstances.
Health Canada is still reviewing 10 additional applications for injection sites, Philpott said, noting there are three from Toronto, two from Vancouver, two from Surrey, B.C., one from Victoria, one from Ottawa and one for a mobile site in Montreal.
“Every application is in a different stage of the process and our department is working very actively with all 10 additional applicants to make sure that all the criteria are met,” she said.
Currently, applicants for new injection sites must provide medical and scientific evidence of benefit, along with letters from provincial health ministers, local police and regional health officials.
Advocates say the requirements create too many barriers for the creation of new sites.
In December, the Liberal government announced legislative amendments designed to remove 26 strict requirements for supervised injection sites introduced under the previous government.
Last week, the Liberals and the New Democrats agreed to work together to speed up its passage, suggesting lives were at stake.
The changes contained in the legislation will make it easier for supervised injection sites to be established while adhering to criteria set out by the Supreme Court of Canada, Philpott said.
Her department says international and Canadian evidence shows injection sites, if operated properly, can save lives without increasing drug use or crime in surrounding areas.
“There’s not one single item that will resolve the opioid crisis,” Philpott said. “It requires a response that is comprehensive that addresses prevention, harm reduction, treatment and law enforcement.”
In January 2016, the Dr. Peter Centre in B.C. –a site in operation since 2002 –received a formal exemption required under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to sanction its activities.
Insite in Vancouver was also granted an exemption in the spring allowing it to continue operations for another four years.
Political leaders and public health experts Canada have sounded the alarm about the rise in opioid deaths –a national crisis that was discussed during a summit in Ottawa last fall.