Pubdate: Sat, 03 Dec 2016
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Times Colonist
Author: Cindy E. Harnett
Page: A1


Island Health is forging ahead with preparations for
supervised-consumption sites in Victoria, saying the mounting
drug-overdose deaths demand action.

"The sense of urgency we have is that we have citizens within our
community who are dying every day," Island Health CEO Brendan Carr
said at a health board meeting in Victoria.

Applications for two of three supervised-consumption sites are on
track to be submitted to Health Canada by the end of the month, Island
Health said.

It wants to open supervised consumption services on Pandora Avenue
next to Our Place, on Bridge Street near the Rock Bay Landing shelter,
and at 844 Johnson St., which has been converted to housing for former
residents of Victoria's tent city.

Such sites offer a hygienic environment where people can use drugs
under the supervision of trained medical staff. Users bring their own
drugs to the facilities, which often offer other health and social

They aim to reduce the number of overdose deaths and reduce public
drug use and the number of discarded needles. The sites would also
include a range of ancillary services, including public health, mental
health, counselling and treatment services.

An architect is already working on the plans for the Pandora Avenue
facility, said Cheryl Damstetter, Island Health's executive director
of mental health.

And if federal approvals come in quickly, the Johnson Street facility
- - which would be open only to residents of the building - could open
within months. "Well within a year," Carr said.

Seven drug overdose deaths were reported on the Island last week,
prompting the health authority to warn people using drugs not to do so

Bruce Wallace, an assistant professor in the University of Victoria's
school of social work, told the board on Thursday that 40 per cent of
drug users reported usually or always injecting alone in last six months.

Until the supervised sites are approved, informal oversight policies
provide a way to watch over drug users.

"We are looking outside of the box," Damstetter said at the board

Carr said the alternatives stop just short and "don't go all the way
to having conventional safe consumption sites."

The Johnson Street housing facility, for example, already has a
"witnessing" or "oversight" policy under which people try to watch one
another consume drugs to ensure they are safe.

Carr said alternatives for harm reduction have to come "in months, not

The health authority's expanded provision of naloxone, which treats a
narcotic overdose in an emergency, is not enough for what is a chronic
or relapsing condition, he said.

"We have to be respectful of the Health Canada process, but we can't
sit back and wait for that process to give us permission to act," he
said. "We have to find whatever means we can with our community to do
what we can today to address this."

According to the B.C. Coroners Service, 120 people died from illicit
drug overdoses on Vancouver Island in the first 10 months of 2016.
About 60 per cent involved the opioid fentanyl. By comparison, there
were 60 overdose deaths on the Island in all of last year.

In B.C., there were 622 overdose deaths in January through October,
compared with 397 in the same period last year.

Victoria's Raging Grannies activist group asked the health board on
Thursday to act quickly and expand its plans for harm reduction to
include measures such as free prescribed heroin.

"Everyday I see the drug deals - and I see the staggering, the
incoherence, the nodding off, the occasional aggression and the other
side-effects of drug use," Anne Moon said.

"If we got the dealers out of the equation, I believe the
neighbourhood would be calmer, crime would plummet and we could start
the task of helping the addicts reclaim their lives."

Moon said people who are addicted are living in despair and are where
they are because of racism, abuse, illiteracy, mental illness,
poverty, trauma. Her presentation was loudly applauded by the health
board and audience.

Carr said the crisis is unprecedented. "It's blowing out of the water
all of our normal conventions and thinking and so we really need to
challenge ourselves about how we can address this as a community,"
said Carr.

An online public engagement survey closed at midnight Thursday with
about 1,400 responses to date.
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MAP posted-by: Matt