British Columbia

Chilliwack ER doctor says city needs supervised injection site

A Chilliwack doctor says city council support for his call would send a message to Fraser Health and Health Canada.

Dr. Marc Greidanus says he sees an overdose patient once every other shift at Chilliwack General

A Chilliwack ER doctor says as homelessness grows in the city alongside a province-wide fentanyl crisis, the city should get its own supervised injection site. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

As Chilliwack deals with growing concerns around homelessness and drug addiction, two doctors say it's time for a supervised injection site in the city.

One of them, Dr. Marc Greidanus, an emergency room physician at Chilliwack General Hospital, says while only two people died of overdoses in 2016, the doubling of homeless people over the summer means it's time to act now.

He says he personally sees an overdose patient about once every other shift.

"It's put a huge strain on an already overburdened system," he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"Traditionally, mental health services have decreased as we move eastward in Fraser Health. … This is an evidence-based public health measure and we know it works and we should be deploying it more widely.

"It's a frustrating problem."

Chilliwack has a needle exchange and a methadone clinic, as well as an outreach team to connect with drug users on the street but Greidanus says those aren't enough.

And while it is Health Canada that provides permits for supervised injection sites, he says cities can help the process by speaking out in favour.

"If a city can say 'we want this in our town,' that frees up Fraser Health to say, 'OK, we're not going to encounter barriers here; we're more likely to move forward,'" he said.

"The impacts are local: our city is paying fire crews to go deal with these overdoses on a nightly basis. Our city is paying parks staff to clean up needles."

The City of Chilliwack declined comment on Greidanus' call for its support.

Fraser Health says it's currently focusing on Surrey for supervised injection sites where the need is greatest.

A spokeswoman wrote that they have recently signed an agreement with RainCity Society for a regional harm reduction strategy that includes opioid substitution therapy. That strategy will also include Chilliwack.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Chilliwack ER doctor says city needs supervised injection site