Skip to main content

'Harmful fumes' from drugs causes temporary closure of 2nd Ottawa safe consumption site

Share

A second safe consumption site in the city of Ottawa has temporarily closed after harmful fumes from drugs caused staff members at the facility to become ill.

A statement from the Somerset West Community Health Centre in Chinatown says that it made the decision after they had two instances of staff members experiencing symptoms of nausea, dizziness and headaches.

The centre, which provides a space for people to bring pre-obtained drugs and use under professional supervision, says all staff has recovered.

"We recognize that temporarily closing the CTS will have an impact on our clients and community, and we are doing our best to minimize this impact by redeploying staff to our courtyard and continuing our outreach activities through the Drug Overdose and Prevention Education team and crisis outreach workers," read a statement from Somerset West Community Health Centre executive director Suzanne Obiorah.

"We understand this will be a challenging time and want to assure you that we are taking all the necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of everyone on site."

The closure comes after the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre also closed its supervised drug consumption services last week after eight staff members reported feeling similar symptoms.

Safe consumption site at the Somerset West Community Health Centre. (Jackie Perez/CTV News Ottawa)

The Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development says it was first notified of a "health and safety event" on Feb. 23 at the Sandy Hill site and an inspector visited the site on Feb. 27. The cause of the illness was not known at the time and the ministry did not provide any additional information, citing the ongoing investigation.

"In the interim, we are working with other hubs to make sure individuals that need the services are continuing to get the services," said Sandy Hill CHC's Wendy Stewart.

Ottawa Public Health has been monitoring a rise in suspected overdoses in the region. OPH data shows there were 90 visits to the emergency department because of a suspected overdose in the third week of February, the highest number so far this year.

In a memo to city council, OPH says it is taking the following actions:

1) Enhanced surveillance: Given that a key role for OPH is to monitor the health status of Ottawa residents, our first priority in this situation is to conduct enhanced surveillance of overdose and related trends for as long as there is reduced access to supervised consumption services. In particular, OPH will continue to:

  • Track any changes in the epidemiology related to overdose and drug-use trends and share that information with harm-reduction service providers and health-system partners so they can adapt their services accordingly;
  •  Consult with community members and businesses in the neighbourhoods surrounding the supervised consumption services and share that information to better understand what changes they are seeing on the ground.

2) Provincial coordination: Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development is the lead agency when investigating situations involving occupational health and safety matters. OPH is working closely with the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health, and Public Health Ontario to support the two supervised consumption sites and is promoting the collection of samples of substances for laboratory testing.

3) Harm mitigation: OPH is working closely with the Ottawa Police Service, Ottawa Paramedic Service, hospitals, harm-reduction service providers, and health-system partners to accelerate actions and mitigate any harms, especially as they relate to potentially higher rates of fatal and non-fatal overdoses.

OPH continues to publicly advise people to:

  • avoid smoking drugs indoors;
  • avoid inhaling drug-related smoke;
  • avoid using drugs alone.

The health centre says it is still welcoming clients and drop-ins for other services. It has been in contact with Ottawa Public Health and the Ministry of Health to advise them of the situation and seek guidance on reopening.

There are two other supervised consumption sites in Ottawa that remain open: Ottawa Public Health offers supervised consumption services at 179 Clarence St. and the Shepherds of Good Hope has a site at 230 Murray St.

In the absence of supervised consumption services, Ottawa Public Health offers this advice to people who use drugs.

1. Carry naloxone – Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone kits are available at no cost in Ontario. Please visit StopOverdoseOttawa.ca to find out how to get a naloxone kit.

2. Don’t use alone – A buddy system is safer than using alone. If you are using with someone else, don’t use at the exact same time.

3. If you do use alone – Tell someone before you use. Have a safety plan which includes having someone come check on you. You can also call the National Overdose Prevention Line at 1-888-688-NORS (6677) or connect with an anonymous virtual harm reduction supporter via the Brave App.

4. If you choose to use – Consider visiting one of the available Supervised Consumption and Treatment Services locations in Ottawa.

5. Get your drugs checked before using- walk-in drug checking services are available at Sandy Hill Community Health Centre and for registered clients of Ottawa Inner City Health’s Consumption and Treatment Service.

6. Don’t mix drugs – Using more than one drug at a time puts you at a higher risk of overdose.

7. Know your tolerance – Your risk of overdose increases if you are a new user or haven't used in more than three days.

8. Go slow – The toxicity of unregulated drugs is unpredictable 

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Jackie Perez.

Correction

A previous version of this story said two staff members experienced illness at the site. In fact, it was two instances, not two staff, as noted in the original press release.

CTV News has corrected the error. 

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Stay Connected