London's first OD prevention site finds temporary home on King Street

A downtown London agency that already offers support and clean supplies to drug users will be home to the city’s first drug overdose prevention site, The Free Press has learned.

Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, a front-line service at 186 King St. that also runs a busy needle and syringe program out of its office, will be the site of London’s temporary overdose prevention site, set to be announced Friday - writes

That site, a precursor to the more permanent supervised injection sites for which London is seeking approval, is intended to provide a safe place for users to do drugs with medical supervision and an opioid overdose antidote nearby.

It’ll also act as something of a pilot project to gauge the impact of such supervised sites in London.

But the first stage isn’t going over well with everyone.

Backlash has erupted over the temporary and more permanent supervised drug facilities – which advocates argue are proven to reduce overdose deaths – especially where the facilities will be located.

Janette MacDonald, chief executive at Downtown London, said her agency has to balance community safety concerns with the interests of downtown businesses.

“Our job is to make sure that our membership isn’t harmed by it,” she said. MacDonald also wants to see a series of temporary sites.

“This is a community issue, it’s not just downtown.”

Last summer, Downtown London and the Old East Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) asked city council to craft zoning rules that would put limits on those sites – keeping them away from schools and daycares, for example.

Brian Lester, executive director of the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, who was speaking only generally about the role of supervised sites, said that finding the right location for a temporary or permanent site is key.

"If it’s an environment where people don’t feel safe or comfortable, they’re probably not going to use it,” he said.

And getting people in the door will be crucial to the site's success.

“First and foremost, it’s about preventing people from dying."

The anti-overdose facility will offer a safe haven for drug users who can bring and use their drugs, acquired elsewhere, in a space with trained professionals, access to community resources – including treatment supports – and naloxone, a life-saving substance that can help delay the effects of an overdose.

And MacDonald noted that the temporary site could be a test-run before London rolls out the full-fledged supervised injection sites, also called supervised consumption sites.

She's hopeful the sites may provide some relief for the drug issues dogging London. Five suspected overdose deaths have already been reported by police since the start of 2018.

“We asked them to do something about addiction – they’re doing something about addiction,” MacDonald said.

But she's still looking for more information about how the temporary overdose prevention site will be run and managed.

“I think it needs a lot more discussion and examination.”

Coun. Tanya Park, whose ward includes the downtown, said she hasn't received any negative feedback about the temporary site. She sees it as an opportunity to test the role of supervised drug facilities in the city.

“We can take those learnings from a potential temporary site and apply them to wherever a permanent site might be,” she said.

She sees it as a game changer for London.

“We need to make sure individuals who need the help can get it,” she said.

“They just need help and dignity.”

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