British Columbia

Second supervised consumption site approved for Victoria, B.C., is first to open

The new service approved for the supported housing complex at 844 Johnson Street will begin operations immediately.

The new service, inside a downtown supported housing complex, will begin operations immediately

The new supervised consumption service approved for a supported housing complex at 844 Johnson Street will begin operations immediately. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)

The second supervised consumption facility to be approved in Victoria will be the first to open on Vancouver Island, with operations starting immediately at a supported housing facility for former tent-city residents.

Island Health and PHS Community Services Society announced approval Thursday from Health Canada to open the supervised consumption service at the building that is known as the Johnson Street Community.

 A joint announcement from Island Health and PHS said the service is exclusively for residents and registered guests at 844 Johnson Street, to help prevent and reverse overdoses and connect clients with treatment services in Victoria.

"We're in a sweet spot here because we're already operating an overdose prevention site within our Johnson Street building," PHS executive director Jennifer Breakspear said in an interview.

As a result the organization was able to make required changes, including staffing, documentation practices and adding a camera, while the overdose site remained open. 

In August this year Health Canada approved a supervised consumption site for 941 Pandora Ave., two blocks from the Johnson Street facility, but it is under renovation and not scheduled to open until spring 2018.

The first supervised drug consumption service to open in Victoria at 844 Johnson St. is in a supported housing facility which has operated a more basic overdose prevention service for the past year. (Island Health)

Breakspear said the biggest change in the conversion of the four-seat overdose prevention site into a supervised consumption site is a shift from provincial to federal government oversight. 

PHS has operated the first supervised consumption site in Canada, Vancouver's Insite, since 2003. 

Breakspear said they followed a similar setup for the four-seat overdose prevention site at the Johnson Street building. The room features easy-to-clean steel tables and clear sight lines for observing clients.

Existing staff will support residents of the building, which means counselling and addiction treatment are already available to overdose prevention site users.

One year, 3 overdoses, no deaths

Breakspear said since the overdose prevention site opened at 844 Johnson Street, it averaged more than 1,000 visits a month. 

"In the full year of running the site and up to upwards of 1,500 people in the month of October, there's not been one fatality," she said. "This is a safe system and our staff are highly trained and highly experienced to be able to recognize the signs of an overdose, so our numbers of overdoses have been very low and fatalities are at zero."

She said the facility recorded only three overdoses that required treatment with Naloxone, which reverse the effects of opioids. By comparison she said hundreds of overdoses were recorded in the nine overdose prevention sites operating across Vancouver Island.

"We believe it's because our staff are trained and they're recognizing when a situation is going bad before it's an overdose," Breakspear said.



Deborah Wilson

CBC Victoria producer

Deborah Wilson is a journalist with CBC Radio in Victoria, B.C.