British Columbia

B.C. takes 'extraordinary measure' of making temporary overdose prevention sites legal

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake has taken what he is calling "the extraordinary measure" of signing a ministerial order making the provincial operation of temporary overdose prevention sites legal. Lake has the authority due to the earlier declaration of a public health emergency.

Health minister signs ministerial order allowing B.C. to legally operate temporary overdose prevention sites

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake (middle) has signed a ministerial order to support the development of temporary overdose prevention sites. (Rafferty Baker/CBC News)

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake has taken what he is calling "the extraordinary measure" of signing a ministerial order making the provincial operation of temporary overdose prevention sites legal. 

Lake says he has the authority because of the ongoing public health emergency. 

"Despite considerable efforts to reduce the number of overdose deaths in B.C., too many people continue to succumb. With the recent spike in 911 calls and the cold weather, we knew we needed to act fast to keep people safe," said Lake in a statement.

"These overdose prevention sites will help make sure that people have access to people trained to respond should an overdose occur." 

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall advised the province the order was possible. It will remain in effect for the duration of the public health emergency declared on April 14, 2016, in connection with the sharp rise in illicit drug overdose deaths.

The province has established a number of temporary sites to monitor overdoses including an "emergency room on wheels" on the Downtown Eastside. 

Nurses have described Vancouver's Downtown Eastside as a virtual 'battle zone' with 175 overdoses in a five day period last week. (DTES Market)

The federal government announced on Monday proposed legislative changes that will make it easier for jurisdictions to deal with the ongoing crisis, including applying for permanent supervised injection sites.

But B.C. is still going to keep the order in effect, because it allows the province to operate temporary sites before federal rules are approved in the House of Commons and new facilities can be set up.

"Now, the overdose prevention sites will be there as long as we need them, and now we know we can get our proper supervised consumption sites opening sooner," said Lake. 

Premier Christy Clark went to Ottawa in November to meet with federal Health Minister Jane Philpott and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. At the time, B.C. asked for federal restrictions of pill presses and an easier application process for supervised injection sites, both of which have now been proposed by the federal government.

Jane Philpott, federal minister of health, arrives on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, to make an announcement regarding an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to make supervised injection sites easier to open . (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"We needed their help, and I am delighted the federal government is delivering for people here. They have responded to all of our requests," said Premier Christy Clark, in a video posted to her social media accounts.

The ministerial order allows B.C. Emergency Health Services and regional health authorities to provide overdose prevention services as necessary on an emergency basis. But NDP Leader John Horgan doesn't think this would have been necessary, if Clark had gone to Ottawa sooner.

"They should have been asking the feds a year ago to address this issue," said Horgan. "Last year, there was overwhelming evidence there was a crisis and here we are half the way through December and only now are we seeing federal action."