Nova Scotia

Opioid users and families urge Nova Scotia to open overdose prevention site

The group, a mix of opioid users and family members of people who have died due to an overdose, marched from the Direction 180 site on Gottingen Street to Province House in Halifax.

Group marches to Province House in Halifax with crosses marking deaths of loved ones

Three dozen people marched to Province House in Halifax in support of an overdose prevention site. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Three dozen people took to the streets of Halifax Wednesday morning to show the Nova Scotia government the need for an overdose prevention site where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of health workers.

The group, a mix of opioid users and family members of people who have died due to an overdose, marched from the Direction 180 site on Gottingen Street to Province House in the city's downtown.

"We want answers from the provincial government on why we can't have an OPS," said Matthew Bonn, one of the organizers of the rally and a volunteer with HaliFIX, a group of community advocates fighting for Atlantic Canada's first overdose prevention site.

Bonn said an overdose prevention site would give opioid users a safe place to go. He said he himself has used in many places where he shouldn't have.

"I contracted hepatitis C from using in condemned buildings, alley ways, church basements," said Bonn. "I had a lot of friends die because they didn't have a safe place to use."

Many of the marchers had crosses to honour those who have died from an opioid overdose. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Department of Health said the province is currently reviewing options for an overdose prevention model and how it could fit into the province's overall harm reduction approach.

Once that work is complete, recommendations will be provided to government to consider.

Last year, there were 60 confirmed or probable opioid-related deaths in Nova Scotia, according to government data. In the last eight years, the annual number of opioid-related deaths has ranged from 53 to 67.

The Department of Health said there have been 121 reported overdose reversals since the province started distributing naloxone kits, but the true number is likely higher because some cases aren't being reported.

Those at the march said an overdose prevention site can't come soon enough.

"It would eradicate overdose and would have trained medical professionals who would help people use more safely," said Patrick Maubert, who works at Mainline, a Halifax facility that offers needles, syringes and other products to users, and treats drug use as a health concern rather than a criminal or moral issue.

"More importantly, an OPS would offer infrastructure for resources to start the process of recovery."

A number of overdose victims were remembered in the march. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Several people at the march carried crosses. Each was labelled to remember the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and others who have died from opioid overdoses in Nova Scotia.

When the rally was complete the crosses were left hanging from the fence surrounding Province House.

"Everywhere in Canada, except Atlantic Canada, there are overdose prevention sites," said Bonn. "There are decades of evidence-based research that says it reduces overdose-related fatalities and it reduces the transmission of blood-borne infections."

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