Questions and Answers
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What is a Supervised Consumption Site?
A supervised consumption site (SCS) offers a clean, designated area for people to bring their own drugs and use them. The site offers a place for people to have their drugs checked for safety, acquire new, sterile materials and dispose of used materials.
An SCS can also offer:
Basic medical treatment and wound care
STBBI check ups and testing
Support for using less risky methods of drug consumption, such as switching from injection to smoking
Mental health support
Social service and housing referrals
Referrals to treatment as requested
What are the benefits of Supervised Consumption Sites?
Supervised consumption sites have many benefits including:
A space for individuals to inject drugs where they will not be rushed. Rushing can make individuals more prone to injury and overdose.
A clean space with access to new, sterile materials such as syringes
A place to get information about how to reduce risk and harm in drug consumption (such as switching from injection to smoking)
A point of access for health care resources
A point of access for for treatment, as requested
Where would a Supervised Consumption Site be located?
Supervised consumption sites are typically located in areas where high rates of public drug use already occur. In Winnipeg, that is in the core area of the city. There are plans in Winnipeg to create mobile sites as well, which could reach individuals in areas of the city farther away.
Where do Supervised Consumption Sites currently exist?
In addition to the Vancouver site established in 2003, Health Canada approved the implementation of supervised consumption sites in Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Surrey and Victoria in 2018.
As of September 2021, there are 37 supervised consumption sites in Canada currently offering services to the public. Seven additional sites have been approved to offer services but have been closed temporarily or not yet opened. Seven potential sites have an open application for Health Canada approval. Main Street Project had an application in review, but it was withdrawn in mid-2021.The Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre is currently preparing an application.
Supervised consumption sites currently exist in many parts of the world including in Europe, Australia, the United States.
What is a Health Canada exemption and why is it required?
In Canada it is illegal to possess controlled substances (including illicit drugs) and their precursor chemicals. This means that anyone doing research on controlled substances, or creating a space where these substances are consumed, requires a Health Canada exemption in order to operate legally.
Because safer consumption sites are designated spaces for people to consume controlled substances, or “illegal” drugs (as opposed to legal ones, such as caffeine, alcohol and cannabis), they require permission from Health Canada to operate. This is known as a Health Canada exemption. Without this exemption, supervised consumption sites cannot legally provide their services and would be subject to law enforcement.
Do Supervised Consumption Sites save lives?
Yes. supervised consumption sites have been shown to reduce the number of deaths of individuals who inject drugs. No one has ever died at an SCS.
Would a Supervised Consumption Site be useful in Winnipeg?
The real answer to this question is that we won’t know for sure until we try it. Studies have shown that SCS reduce overdose deaths and reduce the number of dropped syringes. We know that people who use drugs often face barriers in accessing health care, and SCS can be a point of access to medical care that can prevent individuals from ending up in urgent care, emergency or hospital later on from untreated conditions. We know that SCS can reduce the risk of HIV infections from needle sharing.
However, there is not much research on safer consumption sites in communities where the most commonly used drug is methamphetamine, as is the case in Winnipeg.
Additionally, there can be unintended consequences that arise from the establishment of an SCS.
The people who run SCS are good at course-correcting and making adjustments to programs when challenges arise, though.
When was Canada’s first Supervised Consumption Site opened?
The first supervised consumption site was opened in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2003.
Are Supervised Consumption Sites illegal?
Supervised consumption sites can and do operate legally in Canada. Canadian law has an existing framework for the legal operation of SCS.
To open and operate a sanctioned SCS, organizations must apply for and be granted an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act. Applying for this exemption is a rigorous process requiring much research and planning. Inside a sanctioned SCS, people can use their own illicit drugs and staff/peers can witness this consumption without the interference of law enforcement.
What is the current status of Supervised Consumption Sites in Winnipeg?
As of March 2021, there is one open application for a supervised consumption site in Winnipeg, submitted to Health Canada in August 2019. The proposed site is called the Overdose Prevention & Education Nest (O.P.E.N.), run by the Main Street Project Inc. The site would be located at Main Street Project’s former shelter location on Martha Street. The application is currently in the review stage as Health Canada is awaiting more information before the site’s future can be finalized.