British Columbia

Drug users call for more supervised injection sites during fentanyl crisis

Former and current drug users rallied in Vancouver, Wednesday, for more supervised injection sites to prevent further opioid overdose deaths that have led to the declaration of a public health emergency.

Advocacy groups say supervised injection sites needed to reduce explosion in opiod overdose deaths

Two men hold up a sign at a June 8, 2016 rally in Vancouver calling for more supervised injection services to deal with a growing crisis of opioid-related overdose deaths. (Denis Dossmann/CBC)

Despite the declaration of a public health emergency in B.C., opioid overdose deaths are not going down and and advocacy groups for current and former drug users want action.

Laura Shaver, president of the B.C. Association of People On Methadone, says the best solution to the problem is more supervised injection sites and she wants to know what's taking so long.

"We don't need any more data. We don't need any more research," she told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn

"What we need is ... [to] give some healthcare funding to open some more sites, so we can save lives."

Shaver and others, including the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), marched on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Wednesday to demand action.

They called on the federal government to permit more special exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow an increase in the number of supervised injection sites.

Shaver fears there could be up to 800 overdose deaths in 2016 after the 474 in 2015 and says supervised injection services are a proven model that could reverse that trend.

Laura Shaver, president of B.C. Association of People On Methadone, speaks at a rally calling for more supervised injection services. The black slab behind her is a mock coffin made for the event. (Denis Dossmann/CBC)

Health authorities also call for more services

Shaver is not alone in calling for more supervised injection services in B.C.

Health authorities on the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and the Interior have either called for more services in their jurisdictions or expressed interest in such services.

However, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall said last week that getting formal federal approval for such facilities is extremely difficult without the repeal of the Respect for Communities Act enacted by the federal government in 2015.

As an alternative, Kendall said, "if you have enough naloxone kits in a shelter or subsidized housing where you knew you had an issue with overdoses, you could be providing, as it were, a very low barrier supervised consumption site."

"If you're injecting with somebody who does have a naloxone kit, then they are in some respects just monitoring your health and if they need to they can deliver the naloxone," Kendall said. "So that's a strategy that we're pursuing as well."

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Fearing even more OD deaths, methadone users call for more supervised injection sites