British Columbia

Vernon overdose prevention site expected to be running by summer 2019

Vernon, B.C., will be home to the Interior’s next overdose prevention site, and the local health authority would like to see it up and running by summer of this year.

Health authority has heard concerns from public regarding location of the site

In 2018, 24 people died of an illicit drug overdose in Vernon, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Vernon, B.C., will be home to the Interior's next overdose prevention site, and the local health authority would like to see it up and running by summer of this year.

"Vernon, like other areas in B.C., is being impacted significantly by illicit drug overdose death," Dr. Karin Goodison, medical health officer for Interior Health, told Radio West host Sarah Penton.

Goodison said 24 people died in the city last year due to illicit drug overdose.

Interior Health is providing the funding and will oversee the operations of the site, but it is looking for proposals from agencies in the community that can provide overdose prevention services, including monitoring people using drugs and administering naloxone in the event of an overdose.

There are 30 overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites operating in the province, including one in Kamloops and one in Kelowna run by Interior Health. To date, no one has died in any B.C. site which health officials say proves their effectiveness.

Overdose prevention sites are one of three key interventions that the province has identified to combat the opioid crisis. The two others are access to treatment, particularly suboxone and methadone, and naloxone to reverse overdoses.

There were 1,510 overdose deaths from illicit drugs in B.C. in 2018, according to a Coroners Service report updated this month.

Concerns from city council 

Coun. Scott Anderson told Daybreak South host Chris Walker that he is concerned about the impact an overdose prevention site could have on property values and crime rates in Vernon.

"The Ministry of Health looks at this entirely from a medical point of view with a very siloed approach. What they don't seriously look at and what they can't look at, is the impact on the neighborhood," said Anderson.

He feels there hasn't been enough consultation with local physicians and community members.

"This is coming whether we like it or not at the moment. And I really think that we, as municipal leaders, and certainly the public should have a say in whether this comes."

'There is a need' says Interior Health

Ray Samson, director of substance use with Interior health, said that an overdose prevention site is a valuable service that needs to be added to the menu of options for people who are most at risk for an overdose in Vernon. 

The North Okanagan city has the third-highest overdose rates within the region. 

"We very much know that there is a need, [and] we know that a range of services best meets the needs of an entire population," said Samson.

She added that Interior Health is still in the early stages of consultation and physicians will a key part of discussions. 

Bid for proposals

Interior Health will be putting out a call for proposals this week for the facility's location.

Part of the evaluation process includes looking at community engagement for each proposed location, said Samson. 

"So, looking at not only how it meets the needs of the population that will use the service, but also who did they speak to, what were the feelings of the neighbourhood associations or the neighbours to the service, so that we get a very full picture of what potential impact might be."

With files from Radio West and Daybreak South

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