Secure Your Meds

I would like to take a moment to remind residents about Ottawa Public Health (OPH)’s “Secure Your Meds” campaign to raise awareness about prescription opioid misuse by people who use prescription drugs non-medically.

This campaign is a collaboration with the Ottawa Overdose Prevention and Response Task Force, the Health Products Stewardship Association and Drug Free Kids Canada.

As part of the launch, OPH has launched, a web tool useful for providing information for all parents to reduce the risk of kids taking and using their prescription drugs.

13% of Ottawa high school students used prescription drugs non-medically and two-thirds of students got the drug from a parent, sibling or someone else they live with.

Prescription opioids are misused more than most illegal drugs in Ottawa, and were involved in about 45% of drug overdose deaths between 2009 and 2011. Fentanyl, for the first time in 2014, was the leading cause of death due to unintentional opioid overdose death in Ottawa.

If you need to have prescription drugs at home, lock them up and check regularly for missing medication. Watch for missing medication and return unused medications to your pharmacy or at a pharmacy participating in the Ontario Medication Return Program.


For more information including a searchable map of where to drop off unused or expired medications, please visit


Try your hand at this quiz. Can you tell the difference between pills and candy? I bet your toddler can’t either!prescription

Ottawa Public Health All Staff Meeting 2018


I had the privilege of speaking at the Ottawa Public Health (OPH) Annual All Staff meeting on January 16th in my role a Chair of the Board of Health.  The theme this year was Welcoming our Future, Together.


The annual meetings provide an opportunity to network with OPH employees, hear from the Senior Leadership Team, and learn more about key department and Service Area/Branch priorities for 2018.


Some of the points I spoke to were reflecting on 2017- recognizing areas where the organization has grown over the past year, highlighting some public health challenges we have faced, and looking ahead to 2018.

2017 was an extraordinary year for the City of Ottawa and presented unique operational challenges for Ottawa Public Health. As we celebrated Canada’s 150th Birthday, we welcomed many festivals, special events and visitors to the capital. For our team of Public Health Inspectors, this meant a higher number of premises to inspect, especially in the summer.

We also found that other environmental health challenges presented themselves in the summer months. More and more residents this year appeared with ticks for testing. For the first time, more than 20 % of the ticks tested positive for Lyme disease. This made Ottawa a higher risk area for Lyme disease and called for increased vigilance from residents while enjoying the outdoors.

How OPH has responded to many of these challenges accredited to the organization and its people. Inspections were conducted throughout the busy Canada 150 celebrations, protecting residents and Ottawa visitors from food-borne illness. Awareness was raised about Lyme disease

Our Medical Officer of Health spoke before a Senate Committee in support of legislation aimed at reducing barriers to calling for help after an opioid overdose. Naloxone is more widely available in this community than it ever has been. OPH school health nurses provided targeted education in schools and presentations for parents on the subject of substance use. Supervised injection services are now being offered to clients in need, by OPH and other community partners.

There are also many other ways OPH has grown over the year. In the first quarter of last year, we gathered to reflect on health equity and reconciliation with Indigenous people. Some staff went on to take Indigenous Cultural Safety Training and pursue other learning and development.

Finally, I reflected on the leave of Dr. Isra Levy who was the City’s Medical Officer of Health for 10 years and welcomed Dr. Vera Etches as our Interim Medical Officer of Health. I have the utmost confidence that Vera will provide excellent leadership and support in the year ahead.

In 2018, the Board of Health will continue to develop a strategic focus on creating an adaptive workforce, inspiring and supporting healthy eating and active living, fostering mental health, advancing healthy public policy, and preventing infectious disease. As I have read in Board of Health progress reports, a great deal of meaningful work has happened as we shifted more focus towards these areas.

I have faith in the staff at OPH to continue their strong momentum to build, support and educate residents in building a strong and healthy environment for their communities and the City as a whole.

A Warm Welcome to Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s New Acting Medical Officer of Health

Preceding budget discussions at this week’s Board of Health Meeting, I was thrilled and honoured to officially introduce Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa Public Health’s newest Acting Medical Officer of Health.


Dr. Etches will be taking over for Dr. Isra Levy, the outgoing MOH who announced last month his resignation from the role to embrace a new role as Vice President, Medical Affairs and Innovation of the Canadian Blood Services (CBS).


Dr. Levy leaves OPH in a position of great strength. Since his arrival, OPH has seen the establishment of the Ottawa Board of Health, been granted Exemplary Standing by Accreditation Canada, and consistently improved programs and services to meet the needs of the community.


OPH staff and myself bid our farewells to Dr. Levy on Thursday, December 14th at a celebration of his achievements.


Dr. Etches is the former Deputy MOH and has served with Ottawa Public Health for the last 8 years.

Prior to joining OPH in 2009, Dr. Etches worked at the Sudbury & District Health Unit (SDHU) after completing her specialty training in Public Health and Preventive Medicine in 2005. At the SDHU, she served as an Associate Medical Officer of Health and the Director of Clinical Services and acted as the MOH for a one year period.

As a Deputy MOH for OPH, Dr. Etches supports the organization to deliver quality, client-centred services and contributes to knowledge transfer, population health assessment, surveillance, program evaluation and applied public health research.

Dr. Etches is responsible for the management of teams that provide clinical services to prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne illnesses as well as clinical services to prevent and treat dental health problems. Other teams she supervises provide reproductive health counseling, promote breast feeding and carry out home visits to new parents to support positive parenting skills. Public health inspection, environmental health and programming related to the control of communicable diseases and infection prevention and control are also part of her responsibility.

On behalf of OPH, I would like to wish Dr. Etches a warm welcome to the position and the absolute best as she begins to make the role her own. Congratulations, Dr. Etches, and best of luck for the future, Dr. Levy!

A Fond Farewell to the Outgoing OPH Medical Officer of Health

On Monday November 6th, my close friend and colleague, Dr. Isra Levy, announced his resignation as the Medical Officer of Health for Ottawa Public Health (OPH) effective January 8, 2018 as he ventures into a new challenge as Vice President, Medical Affairs and Innovation of the Canadian Blood Services (CBS).


In this role he will assume leadership and oversight of the CBS’s medical, scientific and epidemiological programs in blood and organ donation and transplantation, and its renowned Centre for Innovation.


Dr. Levy has provided 10-years of strong leadership and dedication to the health and welfare of Ottawa’s Public Health. He leaves OPH in a position of great strength as since his arrival, OPH has seen the establishment of the Ottawa Board of Health, been granted Exemplary Standing by Accreditation Canada, and consistently improved programs and services to meet the needs of the community.

During his tenure he has had a positive impact on not only the residents of the City as a whole but the individual members of the professional team at OPH and those sitting at the Board of Health (BOH) table. As Chair of the Board of Health (BOH), I have had the privilege and opportunity to learn and work alongside Dr. Levy for over three and a half years.

It is certainly sad to see such an intelligent, positive, and outstanding member of the Ottawa Public Health team depart but on behalf of the BOH and my office, I wish Dr. Levy health, happiness and success in his new endeavor with CBS.

Have You Gotten your Flu Vaccine??


Have you received your flu shot?


Remember that getting your vaccination yearly helps to not only protect you from contracting influenza but those around you who may be more susceptible.


During the 2016-2017 flu season, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) administered 7,400 influenza vaccines at community clinics, and distributed over 253,000 doses of the vaccine across the City to physicians’ offices, hospitals and long-term care facilities. Pharmacies also received over 118, 300 doses of the vaccine.


For the 2017-2018 flu season, OPH will again focus on providing access to the flu vaccine to the general population through physicians’ offices and pharmacy providers, as well as targeted outreach to vulnerable populations.


210 Ottawa pharmacies will be offering the influenza vaccine; up from 184 pharmacies last year.


A list of participating pharmacies can be found here. Many pharmacies are open long hours, and are located throughout the city, making the publicly funded influenza vaccine more accessible. In addition, more than 300 physicians’ offices across the city will be offering the flu vaccine to their patients.


OPH will also be offering 12 community clinics in different areas of the city from October 28, 2017 to November 20, 2017. The locations of these clinics address gaps where pharmacy vaccination is not readily available.


Residents can find the OPH community Clinic location that is most convenient to them by consulting the list here.


I highly encourage all residents to take the time out of their busy lives to protect their health and the health of others this flu season. Remember that nobody likes a vaccination but even less people want to get sick!


For more information on Ottawa Public Health and its programming, please visit

Flu Clinics


It is that time of year again; the leaves change colour, the breeze is cooler and the sound of sniffles and coughing are in the air – Flu season.

Ottawa Public Health and various other health care partners want to help you stay healthy and avoid getting the flu by protecting yourself and others with the Flu Vaccine.  Residents can get their flu vaccine at their health care providers office, family doctor, participating pharmacies, and community clinics. It is recommended residents contact participating pharmacies to ensure hours of service.


As Chair of the Board of Health, I encourage all residents to plan ahead to ensure that they protect themselves and those who may be close to them by getting yourself vaccinated. For more information on upcoming community clinics and influenza you can visit here.

Interrim SIS

Last month, many residents were shocked to hear about an unsanctioned “pop-up” supervised injection site operating in a City of Ottawa Park. While neither Ottawa Public Health officials nor myself as Chair of the Board of Health approve of this site, actions are being taken to provide enhanced harm reduction services to those in need.
As you may know, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre (SHCHC) was already in the process of preparing for an approved supervised injection site to open up later in the fall (approximately late October 2017). In the meantime, OPH has determined that there is an immediate need for harm reduction services and as such, proposed that an interim site be opened through OPH’s Site program at Ottawa’s Sexual Health Clinic (179 Clarence St) with operations commencing as soon as practicable once required approvals are obtained.


The proposed satellite SIS would be available 7 days a week, with hours of operation to be confirmed. Services would be provided by current qualified employees of OPH in accordance with both the requirements of Health Canada, and with applicable policies and procedures of the SHCHC for the SIS.


For more information, OPH has prepared a Frequently Asked Questions page which is available here.


More update will be provided as they come.

Healthy Lunch Tips from Ottawa Public Health


School is back in session and that means filling up lunchboxes with lots of nutricious goodies to feed a hungry mind! But eating healthy doesn’t have to be a chore. Ottawa Public Health has prepared a list of some easy and fun ways to make healthy lunches part of your child’s everyday routine, giving them lots of energy to play and learn.

**Remember that a healthy lunch should include 3-4 food groups every day!

Such ideas include:

  • Ask your child for their favourite lunch and snack ideas.
  • Try switching the bread in your child’s lunch. Switch between whole grain pita wraps, tortillas and flatbread.
  • Aim to include 2 food groups in your child’s snack. For example, cheese and whole grain crackers or yogurt and a small oatmeal muffin.
  • Include your child in lunch planning by bringing them with you to the grocery store, or having them help put foods into containers.
  • Most schools in Ottawa require peanut free lunches. Check with your school to see if you should avoid packing peanut butter or foods containing peanuts in your child’s lunch.
  • Lunch box food safety is important. Try to make the lunch the night before. Place all the food and beverage items in the fridge overnight. Place all items in an insulated lunch box just before heading out to school. Add a small ice pack, or a food or beverage item that was frozen overnight. These will thaw by lunchtime. If serving hot foods, warm up the thermos with boiling water for a few minutes. Reheat your food and add to your emptied thermos. This will help keep the food hot until lunch time.


Food labels are important as well. If your child has a food allergy, be sure to read the labels on all pre-packaged food. The Ingredient List and the Nutrition Facts Table provide information about the food you are eating. The Ingredient List and the Nutrition Facts Table will help you:

  • Choose healthy food more easily
  • Compare two products to make better food choices for you and your family  Learn about the nutrition information of the foods you eat
  • Better manage special diets

Eating healthy is an important part of a child’s development! I hope that all parents and students are making the most of their lunches to fee the best they can be!


For more information on healthy eating, please visit

Ottawa Public Health reminds students to party safe during post-secondary return to school


As Chair of Ottawa Public Health, and in partnership with the Ottawa Overdose Prevention and Response Task Force, I would like to take a moment to remind college and university students to be aware of the risk of drug and alcohol-related harms, including overdose, during welcome-back and orientation week activities.

Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs can lead to serious injuries, increased violence and alcohol poisoning and overdose. Several Ottawa hospitals see an increase of emergency department visits for sexual assaults during college and university orientation week activities.

Drug and alcohol overdoses are preventable. The most effective way to avoid an overdose is not to use illegal substances. Street drugs are not controlled substances. Unknown drug dosage, drug purity, and contamination issues may increase the risk of adverse reactions or overdose.

Anything can be cut with fentanyl. In Ottawa, bootleg fentanyl has been found in cocaine, heroin and MDMA (Ecstasy), and mixed into counterfeit pills that look virtually identical to prescription opioids like Percocet, and has been associated with life threatening overdoses. (Further information available: Prevent overdoses at summer parties and festivals)

Prescription drugs can also be very harmful when misused or taken without a doctor’s prescription. Taking these medications together with alcohol and/or other drugs can have serious consequences, including death.

To lower your risk of drug and/or alcohol overdoses and other associated harms:

  • Do not use multiple substances at the same time, such as alcohol and drugs.
  • Stay well hydrated with water and take frequent breaks from drinking
  • Do not accept drinks (even water) or drugs from others
  • Stay with friends you trust – keep an eye on each other.
  • Avoid drinking games
  • If you feel unsafe or unwell, seek help immediately from people you know or security staff
  • Plan for a safe ride home. Do not drink or use drugs and drive. Do not drink or use drugs and cycle.
  • If walking, ensure you are visible to drivers. Walking or cycling while intoxicated or while using drugs increases the risk of a collision and injury for you and others.

If you use drugs:

  • Use a small amount first to test the strength.
  • Don’t use alone.
  • Carry naloxone- a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. You can get a take-home naloxone kit for free from pharmacies and other agencies in Ottawa.


Don’t be afraid to call 9-1-1 if you or someone else is showing any of the following signs or symptoms of a drug or alcohol overdose:

  • Slow, shallow or difficulty breathing and/ or bluish lips and nails
  • Changes in level of consciousness including confusion
  • Person is not moving or cannot be woken up
  • Pupils are tiny (also known as pinpoint)
  • Skin feels cold or clammy
  • Inability to walk or loss of balance
  • Gurgling sounds or snoring
  • Personality changes or hallucinations
  • Vomiting
  • Choking
  • Seizures


For more about overdoses and how to prevent them, visit

Tips for Managing Mosquitos from Ottawa Public Health


You don’t need to look past your full bottle of sunscreen to know that it has been a very wet and rainy summer. While few of us are celebrating the near- record rainfall, it’s been a prime season for mosquitoes.


Mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water and love to do so around your home – in recycle bins, the top of pool covers, bird baths and anywhere else a little bit of water can pool. Certain types of infected mosquitoes, especially the northern house mosquito, can spread the West Nile virus (WNV) when biting humans. Most people will not develop any symptoms if infected with WNV, but some may experience flu-like symptoms.


Symptoms may include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, which can include, fever, frontal headache, muscle aches and occasionally a skin rash;
  • Additional symptoms such as neck stiffness, muscle weakness, stupor, disorientation and coma.


After a rainfall, help stop mosquitoes from breeding – and lower the risk of WNV – by draining any standing water around your house, including even small amounts of water in small containers.

  • Empty water from flower pots, pet dishes, pool covers, buckets and barrels
  • Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use
  • Clean clogged eavestroughs regularly
  • Remove unused items, such as tires that can collect water
  • Change the water in wading pools, bird baths, pet bowls at least once a week
  • Cover all access points to rain barrels with tight-fitting screens
  • Use an aerator in garden ponds to keep surface water moving; this will only work if all parts of the water move
  • Consider stocking your garden pond with fish that eat mosquito larvae


Prevent mosquito bites:

  • Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and socks
  • Wear light-coloured clothing; mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours
  • Place mosquito netting over infant carriers  Stay indoors between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active and avoid shady, bushy or wooded areas at any time
  • Screen all windows and doors
  • Use an insect repellent that has DEET or icaridin. Always read and follow label directions
  • Seek medical attention if you develop symptoms of WNV


To learn more about Ottawa Public Health’s WNV prevention program, visit or call OPH at 613-580-6744.