British Columbia

Interior Health pursues mobile injection sites for Kelowna & Kamloops

Two mobile supervised injection sites could soon be operating in Kelowna and Kamloops, if the federal government grants approval.

'There is opposition. It's a controversial topic'

Interior Health hopes to provide harm reduction supplies like clean needles and naloxone to drug users in Kelowna and Kamloops through roving mobile sites. (Jaimie Kehler)

Interior Health is seeking a federal permit to open two mobile supervised injection sites in Kelowna and Kamloops.

The B.C. health authority announced Friday it would move ahead with plans for mobile services in both cities, but plans for a permanent downtown location in Kelowna are on hold.

"The decision to go mobile came after consultation with a number of stakeholders including people who use drugs, RCMP, the downtown business association and the feedback form that we had online," said medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema.

"We received hundreds of emails. Most of the feedback did not support the downtown location."

Services would operate out of RV, small bus

Mena said the mobile sites would offer harm reduction supplies from an RV, small bus, or van and be operated by a health professional.

If approved, the sites would be among the first mobile supervised injection services in Canada.

"If you look at the map of where people are dying in this city you'll see that there are a few spots. It's not just downtown," said Mema.

"I am convinced that this is going to save lives."

Mema admits one of the challenges facing the health authority is convincing critics that such a service could work in the Thompson-Okanagan.

'There is opposition'

"There is opposition. There are people who are opposed altogether to harm reduction.... It is a controversial topic."

The Uptown Rutland Business Association plans to meet Wednesday to discuss the mobile plans.

"My personal view is that I do like it better than a fixed site definitely," said Mike Koutsantonis, president of the association and owner of Olympia Greek Taverna.

He said he has found needles in the back alley behind his restaurant, but he and other business owners would have liked to have more information before IH moved forward with a drug use site.

A proposed overdose prevention site and this pop-up site in Rutland were cancelled following concerns from neighbours. (Chad Smith)

"We haven't been vocal against the site. We've been vocal against a lack of information," he said.

"To us, especially to me, it seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to everything that was going on."

IH reached out to the Uptown Business Association on Friday and plans to continue the consultation process with all groups moving forward.

"This is not over. People will continue to be engaged to have a say," said Mema.

Interior Health plans to have its application in by the end of January.

It is unknown how long it will take for Health Canada to make a decision.

With files from Daybreak South.