British Columbia

Supervised drug consumption site in Prince George expanding to support substance users who smoke their drugs

When it comes to drug overdoses, northern B.C. has the highest death rate in the province and the head of a project dedicated to keeping substance users alive says there has been a rise in the number of people who prefer to inhale, rather than inject.
Jordan Harris, executive director of The POUNDS Project Society which operates a supervised drug consumption site in Prince George, is working with the city and the local health authority to establish a space where people who inhale rather than inject substances will also have access to life-saving supports (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A supervised drug consumption site in northern British Columbia is expanding this spring to accommodate substance users who inhale, rather than inject, their drugs says the head of the group spearheading the project.

Jordan Harris, executive director for the Pounds Project Society — a social services organization that oversees the downtown site — said including substance smokers is critical given the region has the highest death rate due to illicit drug overdoses in B.C., and that there is an increasing number of users who prefer to inhale.

"In the last few years, we've seen a huge shift among substance users in their preferred method," said Harris, speaking Thursday on CBC's Daybreak North.

She said while the risk of transmissible diseases drops for people who inhale substances rather than smoke them, the risk of overdosing is "exactly the same no matter how you are ingesting this toxic supply."

And much of the supply is toxic.

Fentanyl was detected in more than 80 per cent of drug overdose deaths in B.C. in 2020. Cocaine and methamphetamine were the next most commonly detected drugs.

5 people dying a day in B.C.

This week marks the fifth year since B.C. declared a public health emergency on April 14, 2016, due to opioid deaths and, since then, more than 7,000 people have died.

According to the BC Coroners Service, an average of five people are dying of an overdose each day in the province.

In Prince George alone, paramedics responded to almost 1,000 overdose calls last year.

"A lot of heartbreak ... [but] positive change is possible, it just takes some really courageous steps," said Harris.

The supervised consumption site in Prince George, which is called Two Doors Down and is located at 1126 Third Ave. cannot accomdate substance smokers indoors because of provincial and federal smoking legislation. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

For Harris, that step is opening up a space where people can inhale illicit substances under the watchful eye of someone who can intervene if they overdose.

The idea is not without its challenges, she said, as provincial and federal legislation prevents smoking in an indoor workplace. Harris said the society is working with the City of Prince George and Northern Health to develop a monitored outdoor smoking space.

When asked if such a site would encourage more drug use in the community, Harris said she does not expect that to be the case.

"No one is going to start smoking heroin because there is a safe place to do it."

According to Harris, the details of the site and its operation are being worked out in the coming days and weeks and she hopes for such a space to be available before the summer.

LISTEN | Jordan Harris talks to CBC's Carolina de Ryk about a pending inhalation safe consumption site in Prince George:

With files from Daybreak North, Isabelle Raghem


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