Pubdate: Thu, 28 Jul 2016
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Nick Eagland
Page: A5


Drug-user support groups set up temporary, illegal SIS to aid with OD

A small tent pitched in Surrey on Wednesday symbolized the desperate
measures being taken to end the ongoing overdose crisis killing drug
users across B.C.

In an act of rebellion, drug-user support groups established an
illegal, temporary supervised-injection site (SIS) in the city ahead
of income-assistance payments Wednesday.

Two weeks ago, Fraser Health responded to 36 non-fatal overdoses in
Surrey within 48 hours. Research has shown overdose deaths in B.C.
increase by 40 per cent during income-assistance weeks.

Wednesday, on the notorious 'Strip' at 135A Street near 106th Avenue,
drug users visited a tent walled with tarps attached by tourniquets,
where they injected themselves two dozen times over the course of a
few hours. Members of Insite, the Vancouver Area Network ofDrug Users
and Pivot Legal Society, were present, along with a physician.

The site did not have a federal exemption under Section 56 of the
Controlled Drug and Substances Act, so it was operating illegally.

Despite this, Surrey RCMP did not shut down the site when visiting and
were "polite and professional" to those present, said Russ Maynard of
the Portland Hotel Society, which operates the Insite SIS in Vancouver.

The tent was taken down at 2 p.m. as planned.

Maynard said the event was organized by grassroots organization the
B.C.-Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors. A team of harm
reductionists provided support with the tent, clean injection supplies
and "technical know-how around supervised injection," he said.

"We knew that we were only going to scratch the surface of the need. A
lot of that is people not feeling comfortable - they're not used to a

Maynard said he wants to invite Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, who has
been apprehensive about bringing an SIS to the city, to visit him and
learn more about how Insite helps people connect with health services
and transition into recovery.

Hepner was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Surrey Coun. Vera
LeFranc told Postmedia News the city was aware of the actions taken by
Vancouver advocates to assist localdrug users.

"We have police and bylaw (officers) who are standing by," LeFranc
said. "I think we're all on high alert because we had such a high
number of overdoses."

LeFranc said Fraser Health had dispatched extra paramedics and nurses
and was dispensing additional naloxone kits, which are used to reverse
opioid overdoses. Asked if the city has plans for an SIS in Surrey,
LeFranc said it was "out of the city's hands" but council is "looking
forward" to seeing a full plan from Fraser Health.

Dr. Victoria Lee, chief medical health officer for Fraser Health, said
Friday the authority would like to embed supervised-consumption
services within existing or future facilities that serve vulnerable or
high-risk populations.

"Of course, there's the significant health benefits of decreasing
longterm consequences such as hepatitis-C, HIV and overdoses, but also
linking people to important health and social services," Lee said.

The illegal SIS was warmly welcomed by heroin users Kasey Balaberda
and Sebastian Cameron, who both used the temporary facility and said
they were grateful for the services provided.

But it drew criticism from the Surrey Area Network of Substance Users,
which has long provided support for drug users in the area.

SANSU president Ron Moloughney said he's worried the illegal site will
complicate the group's progress with Fraser Health. He said SANSU
wants a stand-alone site, properly air-conditioned and fully staffed
with health care professionals who will connect drug users with
treatment services.

"They have the right idea, but the wrong approach," Moloughney said of
the makeshift site. "They're not doing us any favours."

The illegal SIS was set up just as Premier Christy Clark announced the
formation of a new task force to deal with the rising number of fatal
illicit-drug overdoses, which claimed 371 lives in the first half of

The province will ask the federal government permission to set up more
supervised-injection sites in B.C. as part of its strategy. Bill C-2,
passed by the federal Conservatives last year, has hampered efforts to
set up such services.

The task force will be headed by provincial health officer Dr. Perry
Kendall and director of police services Clayton Pecknold, who will aim
to strengthen overdose response and prevention measures.

The province will also pressure the federal government to restrict
access to pill presses and tableting machines, limit access to
materials used to manufacture fentanyl and escalate charges for
trafficking fentanyl.

A testing service will be established for drug users to determine if
their drugs contain adulterants such as fentanyl. A new marketing
campaign will educate the public about overdoses while the province
works to expand treatment options through access to medications,
opioid-substitution programs and recovery programs.

The Trudeau government said Wednesday it is taking "very seriously"
B.C.'s plea for sweeping measures to deal with the public health
crisis over fentanyl overdoses.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott's office noted that it has
already taken several measures to deal with the public health
emergency, such as allowing Vancouver's Dr. Peter Centre to operate an
SIS and providing greater access to naloxone.

- - With files from Stephanie Ip and Peter O'Neil
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