British Columbia

Interior Health opens controversial overdose prevention site in downtown Vernon

The Interior Health Authority is opening a controversial overdose prevention site in downtown Vernon, B.C., after it initiated the process more than a year ago.

Vernon mayor says the downtown location is the right spot for the site but some councillors disagree

In 2019, 15 people died from a drug overdose in Vernon, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The Interior Health Authority (IHA) is opening a controversial overdose prevention site in downtown Vernon, B.C., after it initiated the process more than a year ago.

IHA announced its decision at Vernon city council chambers Monday to house the service at the Downtown Primary Care Centre on 32nd Avenue —a facility that has existing mental health and substance use services.

"What this would actually look like is enabling people to come to a space where they can be supervised while they consume their drugs, so they can be observed in case of an overdose and offered interventions appropriately, such as support for their airways and naloxone," said Medical Health Officer Dr. Karin Goodison.

There are at least 30 overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites operating in the province, including one in Kamloops and one in Kelowna, both run by Interior Health. To date, no one has died at any B.C. site which health officials say proves their effectiveness.

Goodison said the health authority has seen an increase in the rate of overdose deaths this year in the North Okanagan.

Last year, there were 15 deaths in Vernon due to a drug overdose, compared to four such deaths in the first three months of 2020, according to the health authority.

The idea of an overdose prevention site in Vernon is controversial, with some city councillors questioning the need for such a facility in the city and raising concerns about an increase in loitering and open drug use.

IHA originally planned to open the site last summer, but later delayed the opening in order to consult with community stakeholders.

Goodison said neighbours have been notified about the site and the health authority is planning an open house, once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Drug users will be able to consume their drugs under the supervision of nursing staff which can intervene in case of an overdose. (Interior Health Authority)

Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming said he believes the location downtown is a good place for the service but he says some in the community and on council disagree.

"There's always been a spectrum of opinions on this issue," he said. "There are those who would be happy if this thing were not happening at all."

Coun. Scott Anderson has repeatedly spoken out about his opposition to the overdose prevention site. On Monday, he again questioned the need for one in Vernon compared with other health services.

"There are 2.3 million Canadians in Canada with diabetes and I wonder what we are doing for them?" he said.

The site will be open from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday to Friday.

About the Author

Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan

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