Island Health has revealed three sites it has chosen for the first supervised drug consumption services in Victoria.
At a news conference Tuesday, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Richard Stanwick identified 941 Pandora Avenue in downtown Victoria and 2920 Bridge Street in Rock Bay as proposed sites for public supervised injection services.
In addition a third site is proposed as a closed service for residents only, at a supported housing facility at 844 Johnson Street.
Stanwick said the $7-million plan is urgently needed in response to the rapid increase in overdose deaths.
"Island Health takes no comfort in being the health authority with the highest rate of overdose deaths per capita," Stanwick said.
The proposed sites have the backing of the provincial government but have yet to be approved by Health Canada.
26 overdoses in 10 days
Dr. Stanwick said a measure of the overdose crisis is the 26 overdoses in the Rock Bay neighbourhood over 10 days earlier this month.
In addition to the three proposed supervised drug use locations, the health authority announced the addition of 25 new adult addiction treatment beds and six youth beds by March 31, 2017.
Public consultation on the proposed supervised consumption sites will take place until Dec. 2, starting with drop-in public meetings next week:
- Nov. 22 in Burnside-Gorge/Rock Bay at Centennial United Church from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
- Nov. 23 in downtown Victoria at City Hall from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Island Health also offered an online survey for public input.
The timeline for approval is uncertain even after the health authority submits its application for exemption from federal Bill C-2, The Respect for Communities Act.
Dr. Stanwick said Victoria will join four other cities, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, which are preparing applications or awaiting federal approval to open their own sites.
He said the proposed closed service for the Johnson Street community building is similar to the arrangement at the Dr. Peter Centre in Vancouver. The former care home is operated by PHS Community Services Society.
In the health authority announcement, B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said supervised consumption services are a key element of the province's overdose response, and backed by abundant evidence, notably from Vancouver's Insite facility where no one has died of an overdose in its 15 years of operation.
Needle exchange rejected for 941 Pandora
Previous proposals for services to injection drug users in Victoria have floundered over community opposition, including one for a needle exchange at the same Pandora Avenue address now pegged for supervised consumption services.
Victoria Police Department acting chief Del Manak was cited by Island Health as supporting the distributed model as a way to reduce incidents of public disorder and discarded needles.
Stanwick said the proposed sites are "where people are already using and overdosing. We're going to be taking people off of the street in those locations and hopefully reducing the number of overdoses.
"We also know that people who inject drugs don't travel long distances to find supervised consumption sites so these sites are basically mitigating, not creating problems."
Advocacy for supervised injection services in Victoria stretches back more than a decade but became more urgent this year as fentanyl-related overdoses surged.
Victoria recorded 44 overdose deaths between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 this year, according to the most recent report from the B.C. Coroners Service on illicit drug overdose deaths in the province.
It also posted the highest rate of increase at 137 per cent over the same period in 2015.
With files from Megan Thomas
An earlier version of this story said Victoria had revealed two locations. In fact, a third, closed location is also proposed at 844 Johnson Street for use only by residents of that supported housing facility.Nov 15, 2016 4:02 PM PT