British Columbia

Victoria demands supervised consumption sites after rash of overdose deaths

Startling numbers showing there were 371 overdose deaths in B.C. already this year have advocates in Victoria once again calling for a supervised drug consumption site.

Deaths across B.C. in 2016 have increased 74 per cent over last year with 60 per cent related to fentanyl

Vancouver's Insite clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside was the first supervised injection site of its kind. Island Health is applying for its own site to combat overdose deaths in the city. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Startling numbers released yesterday showing there were 371 overdose deaths in B.C. already this year have advocates in Victoria once again calling for supervised drug consumption sites.

According to the numbers, the Island Health region has the third-largest number of overdose-deaths in the province, trailing only the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions.

But the region is well behind when it comes to harm reduction efforts, says Katie Lacroix, the chair of the Society of Living Illicit Drug Users in Victoria.

"It's incredible to be sitting here, just a two-hour ferry ride away from some of the most progressive harm-reduction services available, including treatment, and we are so far behind," said Lacroix.

An injection kit is shown at a supervised drug injection facility in Vancouver. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Bruce Wallace, who speaks for the advocacy group Yes2SCS, agrees.

"It's a crisis. We are thinking there really needs to be an urgency to establish these services."

Island Health said it hopes to have an application in to the federal government by the end of the year. The timeline for approval and construction of any sites after that is unknown.

Public health emergency

B.C.'s Chief Medical Health Officer Perry Kendall declared a public health emergency regarding opioid-related overdose deaths in April.

He says the problem now is working around federal legislation to get new sites open.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall says he supports expanding supervised injection services. (CBC)

Bill C-2, which was put in place by the previous Conservative government, allows for supervised consumption or injection sites, but requires each new site gets approval from Health Canada.

"And if Health Canada has to follow the letter of Bill C-2, which was designed to fetter their discretion, it makes it difficult in an emergency situation," notes Ke

Kendall notes that even though awareness about the dangers of fentanyl-laced drugs is spreading, many people are still using alone, with nobody around to intervene if they overdose.

"We know, there are hundreds of people who would use a safe-consumption site, if it were available," Kendall said to CBC's The Early Edition.

"[It's a] safer place for people to inject. We could also engage them in different aspects of primary care."

Government support

But the movement to open more supervised sites does have the support of the federal Liberal government.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government wants to help open new sites as soon as possible, even if that means working around existing legislation.

Provincial Health Minister Terry Lake has announced the creation of five more sites, all of which are currently undergoing review from Health Canada. However, they are all slated to be located in the Lower Mainland.

Harley Frank injects a needle filled with what he was told was fentanyl into the arm of his girlfriend, Stacey. (Chris Corday/CBC)

There are two existing supervised drug consumption sites in the province, both operated by the Vancouver Health Authority. Insite is a stand-alone facility in the Downtown Eastside, and the Dr. Peter Centre is only open to patients of St. Paul's Hospital.

In March, Health Canada removed the prescription status on naloxone, the antidote that can reverse an opioid overdose, and last week temporarily approved the easy-to-use nasal spray form of the medication.

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