British Columbia

Opioid crisis prompts opening of multiple 'overdose prevention sites'

Two new "overdose prevention sites" in Vancouver are already up and running with more slated to open in Surrey and Victoria.

Locations in Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria to offer services similar to supervised injection sites

The opioid and fentanyl crisis has led some front line workers to describe Vancouver's Downtown Eastside as a virtual 'battle zone' after recording 175 overdoses in a five day period last month. (DTES Market)

Two new "overdose prevention sites" on East Hastings Street in Vancouver are already up and running, with more slated to open in Surrey and Victoria in the next weeks.

The surprise announcement was made by B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake Thursday morning.

"This is a crisis we are dealing with," Lake said, referring to the spike in fentanyl and opioid overdoses and the over 620 illicit drug deaths in the province so far this year.

The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users office at 380 East Hastings Street is one of two so-called "overdose prevention sites" that is already up and running. (CBC)

The locations of the sites have been identified as overdose hotspots and will offer services similar to the long established safe injection site Insite, but with one main difference. 

"The actual injection of the drugs will not be supervised," said Lake. "People consuming drugs are able to do it inside, particularly in this weather, and trained personnel will monitor and respond if an overdose occurs."

Emergency room on wheels

In addition, a mobile medical unit — described by Lake as an "emergency room on wheels" — will be stationed at the location of a recently shut down tent city at 58 West Hastings Street. The hope is it will alleviate the strain on emergency responders and on the emergency department at St. Paul's Hospital, which has been swamped with overdose cases.

Overdose prevention sites that began operating Thursday: 

  • VANDU, 380 East Hastings Street, Vancouver.
  • Portland Hotel Society Washington Needle Depot, 177 East Hastings Street, Vancouver. 

Announced sites soon to be open:

  • Quibble Creek Sobering Centre, 13670 - 94A Street, Surrey.
  • Mobile medical support unit, 135A Street, Surrey.
  • Our Place, 919 Pandora Avenue, Victoria.
  • Johnson Street Community, 844 Johnson Street, Victoria (residents only).

Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) president Laura Shaver applauds today's announcement.

VANDU president Laura Shaver applauds Thursday's announcement. (CBC)

"Instead of us doing our outreach in the alleyway we'll now be doing it inside ... where it's warm and where there are people who know how to reverse overdoses," she said.

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria have all applied to the federal government to open sanctioned safe injection sites, and those proposals are still in the pipeline.

Is it legal?

In today's announcement it appears the province has decided to forego onerous federal requirements and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act special exemption which is normally required to operate a safe injection facility legally.

The Federal Liberals have long supported the expansion of safe injection sites as a means of harm reduction for addicts, but have been slowed in approving new sites by legislation brought in by the previous Conservative government.

Lake said he does not know how much today's announcement will ultimately cost.

"We are doing this because we have to," he said. "It's a bit like putting out forest fires — you just have to do [it] and piece together the costing details later."