British Columbia

Overdose task force recommends city establish clean drug supply site

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has unveiled the recommendations of an emergency task force aimed at reducing opioid deaths in the city, including providing illegal drug users with a clean supply.

Staff will be asked to find sites where drug users can access safer opioids — such as hydromorphone

First responders work to revive an overdose victim in Vancouver. (CBC)

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has unveiled the recommendations of an emergency task force aimed at reducing opioid deaths in the city, including providing illegal drug users with a clean supply.

B.C. has often been described as "ground zero" for the overdose epidemic. In 2017, more than 1,400 people died of an illicit drug overdose in the province. It's estimated that one person dies of an overdose in Vancouver every day and four across B.C.

Stewart said that despite best efforts, Vancouver's overdose crisis is likely to claim as many lives in 2018 as it did in 2017.

The report outlines 23 recommendations the city can take over the next 18 months.

"There has been a strong call for a clean drug supply to avoid overdose deaths from a contaminated drug supply," said the report.

"It is recommended that the city prioritize and identify space for a suitable location for a storefront service space, either in or adjacent to the Downtown Eastside, where the B.C. Centre Disease Control can launch its pilot enrolment project."

Stewart confirmed staff will be asked to find sites where drug users can access a clean drug supply — such as hydromorphone — to prevent overdoses.

"Unless we take action now, our friends, family and neighbours will continue to die," he said at a news conference.

"We cannot ignore the fact that our drug supply is poisoned and that is the main cause of overdose deaths. Unless we take action on supply, there will be no end in sight."

More than 1,400 people died of an illicit drug overdose in B.C. in 2017. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Hydromorphone is already available as part of an approved project involving Providence Health Care's Crosstown Clinic. Officials with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control recently suggested making the opioid available in vending machines.

Sarah Blyth of the Overdose Prevention Society, who was a member of the task force, said she's thankful the city has made this a priority.

"It seems like there's a really good understanding that safe supply is going to really help folks get what they needs as opposed to having to use what's killing them on the street," she said. 

The report, containing dozens of other recommendations, calls for a $500,000 one time commitment from the City of Vancouver, $2.7 million from the province and $770,000 from the federal government.

It also calls for investment in Indigenous health services and for Downtown Eastside single-resident occupancy (SRO) hotels to work with response organizers.

The report goes before city council for approval on Thursday.

Naloxone anti-overdose kits are already in use in Vancouver. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Corrections

  • A recent version of this story incorrectly stated that hydromorphone was available at a site run by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. In fact, the site is run by Providence Health Care.
    Dec 19, 2018 12:22 PM PT

With files from The Canadian Press

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