More than 100 health care providers, drug policy activists and front-line workers from across Canada are meeting in Vancouver on Thursday and Friday to discuss how communities can open up more supervised consumption sites.
"It's really what we're calling a knowledge exchange amongst a number of partners, health authorities, NGOs and other partners that are really trying to implement these types of services for these communities," said Donald MacPherson, executive director for the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, which is hosting the meeting with Simon Fraser University.
Last year, 914 people died in British Columbia from an overdose, but the problem isn't isolated to the province.
New numbers show the deaths have increased dramatically in places such as Alberta, as well as Ontario. Many of the deaths are linked to fentanyl and now, carfentanil, the even more potent analog of fentanyl.
MacPherson said people from communities as small as Cape Breton are attending the meeting to learn more about harm reduction.
"The situation in Canada is very precarious at the moment. The drug supply is contaminated and communities are beginning to realize that they have to move quickly in case community members start to overdose in even greater numbers," said MacPherson.
"It is urgent to put in place a range of responses to prevent overdose, including safer consumption services, increased access to naloxone, and expanded access on demand to evidence-based treatment services."
Bill C-37 to be discussed
Part of the discussion will be about working with the federal government in applying for new supervised consumption sites and Bill C-37, which was introduced in December by Health Minister Jane Philpott.
If passed, Bill C-37 will make it easier for new sites to open up by streamlining the application process.
MacPherson said the meeting will discuss the differences between the old legislation and how Bill C-37 changes the process.
"It's a very exciting time if you look at the applications going in for Montreal — they've applied for four sites — Toronto, three sites, Ottawa, one site initially," said MacPherson.
"Others are contemplating applying, so I think we'll see a real diversity within the offerings of these services five years from now, and, hopefully, we can get the controversial nature of these sites behind us."