Manager of Harm Reduction Services Heather Hobbs is photographed in the safe injection room at AIDS Vancouver Island in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 12, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

B.C. overdose prevention sites should be template for others: report

In April 2016, the B.C. government declared a public health emergency in the overdose crisis

It was a day Heather Hobbs recalls vividly: the staff at AIDS Vancouver Island had pulled another overdose victim from the washroom, his body was blue from a lack of oxygen.

The man was revived and they closed the office in Victoria to allow staff to regroup. At the same time, in an alley just a half a block away, another of their clients was dying from an overdose.

Hobbs said she remembers seeing the man leave the facility as they began cleaning up from the overdose. His death was the tipping point for the implementation of an overdose prevention site at their facility, even though they weren’t yet legal, she said.

“I feel like it’s possible, had we not had to have closed, that he would still be alive. So it’s those moments that stick with me and really drive it home that these spaces are essential in terms of keeping people alive,” said Hobbs, who is the manager of harm reduction services for AIDS Vancouver Island.

In April 2016, the B.C. government declared a public health emergency in the overdose crisis, allowing for the unprecedented implementation of the prevention facilities. Within weeks, 20 sites had mushroomed around the province.

READ MORE: Most of B.C.’s overdose victims face financial hardship before death: report

A new study by researchers at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research concludes the rapid implementation of the sites should be used as a template for other governments to save lives.

The study says the quick response of the provincial government and community groups is an “international example of an alternative to the lengthy and cumbersome sanctioning processes for (supervised consumption sites.)”

The report, published this month in the International Journal of Drug Policy, says other government demands for public consultations and an intensive application process “are highly questionable in the context of legal drug poisonings and evidence-based alternatives such as (overdose prevention sites.)”

Health Canada approves the supervised consumption sites, which require an exemption from federal drug laws, while the overdose prevention sites in B.C. are sanctioned under the provincial health minister’s declaration of a public health emergency.

Bruce Wallace, co-author of the report, a scientist at the institute and an associate professor at the University of Victoria, said the study demonstrates how unnecessary the approval process is elsewhere.

“Our research is showing that the benefits of being able to have overdose prevention sites at so many different locations and really integrated with housing, health and social support is a model to go for, rather than going back to the federal processes, which are more onerous to set up and more limited in scope.”

The BC Coroners Service said 991 people died of illicit drug overdoses in 2016, 1,486 died the next year and 1,510 were killed by illicit drugs in 2018. The dramatic rise in deaths coincides with emergence of the powerful opioid fentanyl, which the coroner says is responsible for the majority of illicit drug deaths.

Canada’s Public Health Agency said last week that 3,286 people died of apparent opioid-related deaths between January and September last year.

The report draws on interviews from staff at three of the prevention sites in Victoria to determine their impact.

Wallace said he’s frustrated that other jurisdictions in Canada aren’t adopting the same innovate practices to save lives, especially because they’ve been warned that dangerous opioids are moving into their provinces.

“So to have that level of warning of the potential harm and not act, it’s really tragic that people would not take these lessons and adopt them as fast as they can in other jurisdictions.”

The Ontario government announced in late March that while 15 overdose prevention sites had been approved, six others would close, including three in Toronto.

Judy Darcy, B.C.’s mental health and addictions minister, said there are about 40 overdose prevention sites across B.C. with over one million visits. Thousands of overdoses have been reversed and there have been no deaths at the sites, she added.

Darcy said it’s estimated the government’s actions, including the prevention sites, take-home naloxone kits and other prevention measures, have saved about 4,700 lives.

She said the prevention sites are a critical tool that also connect visitors to other supports, such as housing or treatment. But the stigma remains, Darcy said, and that is the next barrier to knock down.

“For too long we have treated mental health, mental illness as a sign of weakness and addiction as a character failure and as a sign of moral failure,” she said. “These centres don’t judge people. They’re there to save lives, they’re there to connect people to the social supports they need.”

Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Judge questions joint submission for Chilliwack man who sexually assaulted girl

Crown, defence ordered to find case law to back up one-year sentencing for Andrew Mullaly

Flood mitigation money coming to protect Chilliwack-area communities

It’s $45M in infrastructure funding to build 6km of dikes, a flood gate, and pump station

CSOPA’s six spring productions in Chilliwack include play about boy with autism

Mix of musicals, comedy, mystery and more for Chilliwack School of Performing Arts’ May shows

Chilliwack’s hospital morgue needs an expansion

Fraser Health plans to more than double the space for ‘decedents’; upgrade antiquated elevators

Chilliwack Mounties pitch tickets to three-strike motorists

When street signage and Speedwatch didn’t work, drivers met with traffic officers

VIDEO: ‘Alarm bells’ raised by footage allegedly from B.C. pig farm, SPCA says

PETA released video Wednesday showing dead and injured piglets next to nursing piglets

‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Dr. Bonnie Henry says current approach in ‘war on drugs’ has criminalized and stigmatized drug users

VIDEO: Surrey stabbing leaves man with ‘potentially life altering injuries’

Police believe an altercation between two people led to the incident, in the 13700-block of 97A Ave.

VIDEO: Surrey RCMP investigating after ‘sudden death’ of man found with critical injuries

Police say a man is dead after being found laying on the ground in the 13300-block of 114th Avenue

Many teens don’t know they’re vaping nicotine, Health Canada finds

Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey finds youth unaware of nicotine product risk

B.C.’s largest Vaisakhi festival target of threatening Facebook post: Surrey RCMP

Police say they are investigating the posts on Facebook, after local MLA forwarded screenshots

Defence accuses officer of ‘incompetence’ in trial for B.C. man charged with daughters’ murders

Double murder trial for the Victoria father accused of killing his two young daughters continues

Murder on B.C. property didn’t need to be disclosed before sale, court rules

Buyer had tried to break contract after learning a man with ties to crime had been murdered there

Tofino beckons Trudeau for quiet Easter vacation

Environmental group hopes latest Pacific Rim vacation inspires change in prime minister

Most Read