British Columbia

Health Canada approves supervised injection site for Victoria

Harm reduction services will be offered in building next to a centre that provides outreach for people who live on the streets of the capital.

'The opioid crisis has taken a tremendous toll on the Island,' says chief medical health officer

Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health's chief medical health officer, holds up the letter of approval from Health Canada for a supervised drug injection site in Victoria. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Health officials in Victoria hope a supervised drug injection site will help reduce the alarming number of overdose deaths in the B.C. capital.

Victoria has the third highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the province. On average, more than four people in B.C. die every day from an overdose.

"The opioid crisis has taken a tremendous toll on the Island and as health care providers, we must offer greater supports and resources to people in the communities we serve," said Dr. Richard Stanwick, the chief medical health officer for Island Health 

The supervised injection site will be located on Pandora Avenue next to a centre called Our Place that provides outreach for people who live on the street

Up to 10 people at a time will be able to inject their own illegal drugs inside the building.  Medical personnel will be available to immediately respond to symptoms of an overdose. 

The facility will be modeled after Insite in Vancouver, the first supervised injection site in the country.

The site, called the Pandora Community Health and Wellness Centre, will also offer mental health counselling, nursing care and better access to addiction treatment programs, Island Health said.

"The evidence has shown clearly now that this is a lifesaver. There is no doubt at all that having these services available changes people's lives, saves people's lives," said Marianne Alto, a Victoria city councillor.

The supervised drug injection facility will replace this temporary overdose prevention site set up in a shipping container next to Our Place. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Interim overdose prevention services to continue

Advocates who have long pushed for harm reduction measures in Victoria say the approval for the site, which was first proposed in Victoria more than 10 years ago, is a step forward.

However, the building still requires extensive renovations at a cost of about $1.1 million and supervised injection services won't begin until the spring or summer of 2018.

Temporary measures to help reduce overdose deaths will stay in place until then, Stanwick said.

In response to the worsening fentanyl crisis, Island Health opened a temporary overdose prevention site at Our Place in December.

It has a paramedic standing by to respond to overdoses, but can only take three people at a time and does not have all the health supports a fully supervised injection site will offer.

There are now eight overdose prevention locations across Vancouver Island.

People have visited the sites to consume drugs more than 26,000 times and there have been 310 overdoses but no deaths, Island Health said.

The health authority is also waiting for approval for a second supervised injection site it hopes to open inside a supportive housing building on Johnson Street in Victoria.