Pubdate: Fri, 23 Dec 2016
Source: Victoria News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Black Press
Author: Pamela Roth


"You can watch if you want," says Brandon as he sits down in a chair
and puts his drug paraphernalia on the table in front of a mirror.

He fumbles around inside his pocket for the heroin to shoot up and get
high. But this time he isn't doing it alone.

Brandon is one of more than a dozen people who went to the city's
first overdose prevention site that opened at Our Place on Tuesday
morning. By noon, around 11 drug users had already used the site to
safely inject drugs in the company of a paramedic standing by in case
of an overdose.

"I'm more curious about it. I just figured that if I came here other
people would follow as well," said Brandon, who did not want to
publish his last name. He isn't scared about having an overdose since
he has a high tolerance to heroin, even though it's often laced with
the highly potent fentanyl, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of
B.C. residents this year.

"There is no more heroin on the street. It's fentanyl that's made to
look like heroin and have the same affects as heroin...This (site)
will most definitely help people from dying, but where's it going to
lead after that?"

In response to the increasing number of drug-related deaths, the
province is setting up overdose prevention sites at overdose hot spots
in Vancouver and Victoria - one at Our Place and another at the
housing facility on Johnson Street, where the bulk of tent city
residents now live. A third site is planned to open later this month
in Rock Bay.

Officials at Our Place have been pushing for a site like this for a
long time due to the dramatic increase in drug overdoses this year,
which is hovering around 40, and resulted in three people dying.
November alone saw almost 20 overdoses that typically happen in the
washroom facilities.

A small orange shipping container that's open from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30
p.m. now sits in the courtyard at Our Place, which has never been drug
friendly, but was pushed to find a solution in response to the growing
number of overdoses staff were forced to respond to on a regular basis.

Inside the shipping container is a table with various supplies -
syringes, "cookers," blue rubber bands, water, condoms and a naloxone
kit. Users sit in front of a mirror at another table with two chairs.

A paramedic is on hand at all times, along with a peer support worker
to provide education.

Ross Nicholls is one of those paramedics. A longtime volunteer at Our
Place, Nicholls came out of retirement to work at the new site, which
he said is a needed tool to deal with the many problems drug users

After injection, Nicholls looks for any signs that the user might
collapse. For him, the experience thus far has been an interesting
one, and the response from users has also been positive. The wild
card, however, is what drugs are currently circulating on city streets.

"Users have a fair bit of confidence in their own knowledge and
safety, but all of them know people that haven't survived. I think
there is an underlying sense that there is a safety net there if
needed," said Nicholls, who's helped with an overdose about four or
five times, but Our Place staff have dealt with many more.

While getting off shift on Monday, there was another overdose in the
building's washroom. By the time Nicholls got there staff already had
it under control.

"It's sad that they've had that much experience that they were
actually very proficient to deal with that," he said. "When someone is
down deep and you're administering naloxone and they take that first
big breath and they start to come through, that's kind of a sense of
relief. You think this one is going to live for another day."

Earlier this week, the B.C. Coroners Service released the latest
numbers on illicit drug overdose deaths, with November marking the
highest month on record for the province. In November, 128 people died
in B.C., bringing the total so far this year to 755 people compared to
443 in the same period in 2015.

Vancouver is at the top of the list with 164 deaths, followed by
Surrey with 92 and Victoria with 60. Fentanyl was detected in about 60
per cent of the deaths.
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