British Columbia

'Compassion fatigue': Overdose prevention services in Duncan overwhelmed by demand

Overdose prevention services in Duncan could be moved for the second time in two years as health officials grapple with how to provide the life-saving service without disrupting neighbourhoods.

Officials are looking for a new home for the city's overdose prevention site

The overdose prevention site in Duncan has outgrown its location for the second time in two years. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC )

The overdose prevention site in Duncan, B.C., needs a new home — again. It's the second time in two years that the site has outgrown its space and overstayed its welcome. 

Island Health is looking for a new location for the service, and the Cowichan Valley branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which operates the site, has been looking as well.

The current site, located on the corner of a residential street, and across from a shopping area, has been overwhelmed with clients. An average of 120 people visit the site to use any manner of drugs during the six hours it's open each day. Staff are on hand with clean needles, naloxone, and oxygen masks.

James Tousignant says the site is vital, because it saves lives — but he knows it's tough on the neighbourhood too. Tousignant, the executive director of Cowichan Valley CMHA, says even the neighbours who believe in the service are suffering from "compassion fatigue."

He's heard from local residents who don't sit on their porch anymore because of the disruptive behaviour they see on their street, and when users of the site gather on the sidewalk, neighbours have a hard time getting through the crowd. 

James Tousignant is executive director of the Cowichan Valley branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, which runs the site. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Residents afraid to go down the sidewalk

Russ Morgan lives down the street, and says he's seen elderly neighbours afraid to go down the sidewalk. He says there are often people fighting, dealing and and using drugs — and even using public property as a toilet. So he's eager to see it go: "It's been two years. We've done our time here." 

But where to go is the challenge. 

CMHA, Island Health, and the City of Duncan know what they're looking for: a space that's easy for users to reach, close to other health and social services and in a place where there will be minimal disruption. That can be a tough ask even in a big city — and even more challenging in a small one like Duncan. 

Russ Morgan says he's seen people using drugs and defecating on his street, ever since the overdose prevention site arrived. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

It's something Island Health is figuring out, as it works to address the opioid crisis in semi-urban communities. But Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley, says it's clear there's a need. 

"The numbers we have seen have been illuminating and have caused us to realize that we have an unmet need," she told CBC News.

Island Health is hoping to have services up and running in a new location as early as Dec.1.

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