British Columbia

Mobile overdose prevention site in Abbotsford seeks to meet drug users where they are

Fraser Health is opening a mobile overdose prevention service in Abbotsford, B.C. to help reduce harm for people who use drugs in the city.

Service will be located in parking lot near intersection of Lonzo Road and Sumas Way, 3rd of its kind in city

A worker is seen at a mobile overdose service van in Abbotsford, B.C. The service aims to meet people who use drugs where they are. (Fraser Health)

Fraser Health is launching a mobile overdose prevention service in Abbotsford, B.C., to help reduce harm for people who use drugs in the city.

The service, run by the health authority together with Lookout Health and Housing Society, will feature a custom-designed van staffed by harm reduction and peer support workers.

It will be open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily in the parking lot close to the intersection of Lonzo Road and Sumas Way. Fraser Health said "additional locations" could be possible in the future, but the van would stay in this location for the time being.

The new service is the third overdose prevention site in Abbotsford, and the ninth such service in the region covered by Fraser Health, the province's largest health authority area by population.

"As with any new service that is offered to address any one of the numerous crises that we're facing … it's obviously welcome news," said Jesse Wegenast, executive director of the 5 and 2 Ministries in Abbotsford.

Wegenast works closely with people experiencing homelessness in the area, and said the fact that the new site will hand out naloxone kits will also help people use drugs safely.

"But ultimately, my feeling is a little bit mixed," he said. "A little bit sad and disappointed that it's taken this long for this level of intervention."

According to the B.C. Coroners Service, 68 people died of drug overdoses in Abbotsford between January and October 2021, the most ever recorded in a calendar year. 

Wegenast said the location of the new site was well suited for serving those who use drugs in the city, being located close to the largest homeless shelter in Abbotsford.

Dr. Maulik Baxi, a medical health officer with Fraser Health, said it was important to meet people where they are when it comes to harm reduction.

The new site will hand out take-home naloxone kits so that drug users can reverse most overdoses if they are using away from the site. (Fraser Health)

"This site actually does that. Being a mobile site, it is there where people are located," he said. 

"Here we are, going to people where they are [to] hopefully engage them, with the health-care system, engage them with the entire spectrum of care and prevention."

The toxic drug supply continues to claim thousands of lives province-wide six years after it was declared a public health emergency.

Wegenast says he doesn't know anyone in the city who hasn't been affected by the crisis.

"When it comes to the drug toxicity crisis, we are not going to naloxone our way out of it. We're not going to mobile outreach van our way out of it," he said.

"We need some meaningful interventions for people before they ever come to the point of needing to access a mobile van beside the highway, in order to use a narcotic to keep from dying."

Wegenast some that could include such things as the decriminalization of all drugs and addressing the root causes of inequality by providing housing to those experiencing homelessness.

With files from Baneet Braich