Liberal MLA asks government to consider supervised injection sites on P.E.I.

The P.E.I. Liberals want to know if the province would consider creating supervised injection sites on the Island.

'It's certainly something we will look at and it's certainly not off the table,' says health minister 

Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald wants to know if the province would consider creating supervised injection sites on P.E.I. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

A Liberal MLA wants to know if the province would consider creating supervised injection sites on the Island.

Heath MacDonald raised the issue in the legislature Thursday. He said he's watched overdose deaths increase across the Atlantic region over the years, and thinks it's time to take a closer look at the supports being offered here.

According to the province's opioid web page, there were 12 confirmed accidental opioid-related overdoses between April and September of this year in P.E.I., nine of which involved fentanyl.

"These sites provide a basic level of safety and dignity for those suffering from addictions and would help mitigate the number of overdoses," MacDonald said. 

He asked Minister of Health and Wellness James Aylward whether or not establishing the sites here is something his department is willing to explore.

MacDonald says after seeing the number of overdose deaths climb across the Atlantic region over the years, he thinks it's time to take a closer look at supports offered here. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)

"Is it possible for you to put on your agenda to talk to your bureaucrats and those in charge about introduction of safe injection sites here on P.E.I.?" he said.

Aylward said supervised injection sites are something his department is willing to look into.

"It's certainly a lens that we'll put on and take a look and do a jurisdictional scan," Aylward said.

Many benefits 

Speaking to reporters, MacDonald said supervised injection sites can do more than just prevent overdose deaths, and help people connect with other important social services and supports. 

"They can access even additional programming and things like that, that they might not even be attempting to access now," he said. 

Green MLA Trish Altass agrees. She said in other places across Canada the sites also act as a safe community space and can often be the first step a person takes toward accessing mental health and addictions support. She said she hopes it's something government acts on soon.

"At those safe injection sites there's staff that are available to help guide people and to be there to listen and provide supports as a next step to get the treatment that people need when they are facing addictions," Altass said.

"It's really important that we have this discussion now and that action is taken as soon as possible," Altass said. 

Health Minister James Aylward says he's willing to take a look at establishing supervised injection sites on P.E.I., but right now the focus has to remain on protecting Islanders from COVID-19. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Alyward said while his department is willing to study supervised injection sites across the country and look into how to establish one here, now is not the time.

"Safe injection sites is definitely not off the table, it's something that we'll certainly consider. But at this present time, [the Chief Public Health Office] and Health PEI, their main focus is on protecting Islanders from COVID-19," Aylward said.

During question period, MacDonald asked the health minister if there could be space for a pilot project at the new mental health campus. 

Aylward said he doesn't think that would be the best fit. He said if a site were to be created he thinks it should be in a more accessible location like downtown Charlottetown. 

Overdose hotline in the works

Aylward said while there are currently no supervised injection sites on P.E.I., the province does offer other resources and supports, including needle exchange programs and opioid reduction therapy.

He said the province is working with PEERS Alliance to set up an overdose prevention hotline. 

People would be able to call in and speak with a peer — someone who understands substance-related issues and would stay on the line with them while they use to ensure they are safe as they use. If there was an issue, the person on the other end of the line would be able to dispatch first responders to that location.

Aylward said there isn't a launch date for the hotline yet, but it will be available soon.

More from CBC P.E.I.