Supervised injection sites get majority support in health unit's public survey

A majority of people who responded to a recent survey by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) say they want a supervised injection site (SIS) in their community.

During Thursday's board meeting, the health unit released preliminary findings from its SIS survey — including answers from more than 2,000 members of the public who responded to the online survey as well as almost 100 people who said they had injected drugs in the past.

Here are the numbers:

  • Of the 2,512 online survey respondents, 35 per cent identified as friends or family of current or former substance users.
  • Sixty one per cent of respondents supported a safe injection site — 31 per cent were opposed. The rest were undecided.
  • A majority of those in opposition identified as "first responders" — 65 per cent, to be exact.

The survey also included consultations with 99 people who previously injected drugs. These individuals were surveyed by peer workers and WECHU staff, according to the health unit:

  • Half of these respondents reported previously experiencing an overdose.
  • Seven out of 10 said they had injected drugs when they were alone.
  • Nine out of 10 said they were alone during an overdose.

WECHU CEO Theresa Marentette refused to state whether or not she was surprised by the numbers.

During the meeting, however, she said some of the comments from those who opposed supervised injection sites were "hard to read at times."

"Sometimes, I really wonder if it's worth putting it in there or taking it out, but I think it needs to be as it is," she said. "I think we need to hear about it. As politicians, you would like to know what your constituents think and feel."

Windsor Regional Hospital recently said it's seen an increase in patients with addiction needs. For Marentette, a supervised injection site would decrease emergency room visits and patients' need for primary care.

"This site actually does a referral path and connects people to the services they need — so it should impact the health care system," she said.

Sanjay Maru/CBC

Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin, who sits on the WECHU board as a city appointee, said he was not surprised by the findings — but added "a lot of good" should come from the survey because it included people who have injected drugs."

"That's some of the most valuable information that will come of this," he said.

Police services board chair and Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens has stood firm on his opposition to supervised injection sites.

According to Bortolin, who also sits on the police services board, it's unclear if the health unit's survey findings will change the board's stance.

"The polices services board has two responsibilities. One is to look at the actual data and facts and see how they're going to approach some of these issues," said Bortolin.

"Two is to respond to the desires, needs and wants of the general public ... Almost two-thirds of the public surveyed are supportive of the idea of an SIS."

Community consultation is a major hurdle that must be cleared before the city can receive permission from Health Canada to open a supervised injection site.

The health unit is expected to publish its SIS survey findings in a full report which will be presented to the board in September 2019.

"After the September board meeting, if there is direction to move forward, you'll see that happen very quickly," said Marentette. "I would hope that we would have things moving forward before the end of the year.