BC is opening more health support centres in response to the increase in overdose-related deaths, health minister Terry Lake announced this week.
“We are seeing an alarming increase in illicit drug overdose deaths and action is required at all levels to saves lives,” Lake said in a statement. “The overdose prevention sites will ensure that people have a place where they can be safely monitored and treated immediately if they overdose.”
The first two overdose prevention sites opened on Thursday, at VANDU (380 East Hastings Street) and Portland Hotel Society Washington Needle Depot (177 East Hastings Street) in Vancouver.
Another two locations will open next week in Victoria.
Additional sites will open this month, including two in Surrey, as well as several more in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, as well as another in Victoria’s Rock Bay area.
The locations of all sites were identified as areas with high numbers of overdoses, as an immediate response while supervised consumption site applications are in development or awaiting approval, the province said. On-site staff will provide illicit drug users with a safe space to be monitored. They will also be equipped with naloxone – and appropriate training – for overdose response.
“With the onset of colder weather, the increased risk of death and brain damage from a combination of overdose and hypothermia, has challenged us to explore additional options for overdose prevention that do not breach the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, while we wait for Health Canada approval of supervised consumption services,” said provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall.
Working with Vancouver Coastal Health, the City of Vancouver and Provincial Health Services Authority, the province will also be stationing its Mobile Medical Unit at 58 West Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside.
The “unprecedented tragedy with the overdose crisis” is putting “extreme pressure” on Vancouver first responders and front line workers, said Vancouver Mayor, Gregor Robertson. “These new overdose prevention sites and mobile medic units will help provide relief that is desperately needed.”
The overdose prevention sites are the provincial government’s latest steps in response to the opioid overdose crisis. In November 2016, the Province provided $5 million to BC Emergency Health Services to support paramedics and dispatchers, as that month saw the highest number of overdose-related 911 calls ever recorded.