British Columbia

St. Paul's Hospital says its overdose prevention site is saving lives

St. Paul’s Hospital says its in-house overdose prevention site has had a successful first year, with staff reversing 90 overdoses.

Site has been visited by 2,300 people in its first year, hospital says, and seen 90 ODs reversed

Clinical nurse specialist Elizabeth Dogherty on the job at the overdose prevention site at St. Paul's Hospital. Staff have been credited with reversing 90 overdoses in its first year of operation. (CBC)

St. Paul's Hospital says its in-house overdose prevention site has had a successful first year, during which time it managed to reverse 90 overdoses.

The Vancouver hospital says it is the first hospital in Canada to provide such a site.

"We don't condemn or condone substance use but we recognize that people may continue to use when in hospital," said Elizabeth Dogherty, a clinical nurse specialist for substance use, adding the goal of the site has been to "prevent people from overdosing in stairwells, in washrooms, on their own, prevent them from rushing with injections and creating some type of infection."

The site at St. Paul's offers people a safe space and equipment to use drugs under the supervision of nurses. If a patient overdoses, nurses are on hand to intervene. 

The overdose prevention site at St. Paul's Hospital provides a safe space to use under the supervision of trained medical personnel. (CBC)

During the first year, the site was visited by 2,300 people.

Staff with lived experience

Support worker Karen Scott, one of the site's staff members, brings not only medical expertise to the job but also lived experience as a person who used drugs.

"It's a big accomplishment for me," Scott said. "I never thought I'd get a job in the medical field, where I am actually helping people that I used to use with."

Karen Scott is a support worker at the St. Paul's overdose prevention site. (CBC)

Scott says working at the overdose prevention site lets her connect with about 10 to 15 patients each day and her first-hand knowledge helps her reach people who often feel stigmatized.

"You get the odd one who's kinda a little bit reserved, probably because they've had bad dealings with people in the hospital, judging them because they use drugs," she said.

Scott would like to see hospitals across Canada implement their own overdose prevention sites.

2021 deadliest year for drug deaths

Even with only 10 months of data available, 2021 has proved to be the deadliest year for toxic drug deaths in B.C. history, with 1,782 deaths.

Several overdose prevention sites exist in Vancouver. Three are run by the Overdose Prevention Society.

Executive director Sarah Blyth says they have an important role to play, but bold political action is needed to make a real difference.

"'It's getting worse because the drug contamination is getting worse and it's just more common to have these toxic drugs," Blyth said.

"We're still losing so many people. It's just a tragedy. And really all we need is safe supply."

With files from Joel Ballard

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