New overdose prevention centre opens in Victoria

Another overdose prevention site opened its doors Tuesday in B.C., this time in Victoria. It's the latest in a string of similar centres that have opened across the province, aimed at stemming the tide of fatal opioid overdoses.

'Right now our main goal is keeping people alive,' says spokesman at new site

First responders attend to an overdose victim in Vancouver. B.C.'s opioid and fentanyl crisis has prompted the province to permit local health authorities to create overdose prevention sites. ((DTES Market))

Another overdose prevention centre opened its doors Tuesday in B.C. — this time in Victoria. It's the latest in a string of sites that have opened across the province, aimed at stemming the tide of fatal opioid overdoses.

Health officials on Vancouver Island hope the new Victoria centre will stop addicts from using alone.

It's the second overdose prevention centre in Victoria to open in a week. By year's end, it's expected just under 20 of these sites will have opened across the province.

"Right now, this is an emergency," said Grant McKenzie, a spokesman for Our Place Society, the Victoria homeless drop-in centre which houses the overdose prevention centre.

"So right now our main goal is keeping people alive."

Drug overdoses have hit Vancouver Island hard.

The latest statistics show there have been 60 overdose deaths in Victoria so far this year. The Vancouver Island Health Authority has seen a dramatic increase in overdose deaths with 19.7 deaths per 100,000 from January to November 2016, a 153 per cent increase from the previous year.

The opioid crisis has affected communities across the province, prompting the government last week to give local health authorities permission to open overdose prevention sites.

Warm, indoor place

These centres are different from permanent, supervised drug use centres — such as Vancouver's Insite — which has permanent medical staff and requires an exemption to the federal government's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The overdose prevention centres were set up to provide drug users with a warm, indoor place to use drugs, in close proximity to medical staff in the event they overdose, said Dr. Perry Kendall, the provincial medical health officer.

The facilities are not permanent, and should not be viewed as supervised drug use centres under a different name, Kendall said.

He said the temporary overdose prevention sites are in direct response to the opioid crisis.

Need high across province

"[They] ensure, particularly during the cold weather, that people who are injecting will be close enough to people who are trained with naloxone, and they won't fall down in an alleyway behind a dumpster and not be found for several hours, by which time they will be hypothermic or dead from an overdose."

Health authorities say the demand for these centres is high right across the province.

The Prince George overdose prevention centre, which opened last week, has been busy every day, said Eryn Collins, a spokeswoman for the Northern Health Authority.

Grant Mckenzie said it remains to be seen how many people make use of the new Victoria overdose prevention site.

The drop in centre, which provides outreach services for the homeless population, has long shunned drug use on the property. The overdose prevention centre is in a shipping container located outside the centre.

"We are actually sort of having to . . . change because of this emergency to try to have a safe place for people," McKenzie said. 

 Island Health said more overdose prevention sites may still open — including in Nanaimo — where overdose deaths have also spiked.

With files from Megan Thomas and The Canadian Press