Island Health, acutely aware of the scope of the crisis created by the presence of fentanyl in injection drugs and other opioids, was right to apply for a second supervised consumption site before the first has been approved.
Some might wonder why the two applications were for facilities so close to each other – the latest is for the Johnson Street Community at 844 Johnson St. while the first would be located in the Island Health-owned space next to Our Place. But as anyone working with street-entrenched and/or substance-addicted individuals will attest, the services must be located where people are if they are to be utilized most efficiently and effectively.
Staff at Our Place, along with an onsite paramedic paid for by Island Health, have been admirably and heroically filling a lifesaving gap in the system, operating a provincially approved “overdose prevention site” beside their main entrance on Pandora Avenue. The ability to be close by if someone shows signs of an overdose – performing CPR, injecting naloxone and getting people breathing again – has clearly saved lives. Of the 157 cases where medical assistance was required for users of the facility in 2017 through May, none resulted in an onsite death.
Our Place communications manager Grant McKenzie tells of too-frequent occasions where people would enter washrooms inside the main building to shoot up, then not be found for hours, often deceased. Having the temporary facility has provided more visibility and less likelihood of people in medical crisis slipping through the cracks. It’s taken the issue “out of the washrooms and into a safer place,” he says.
If and when Island Health gains approval for the first site, a proposed 10-bed facility, the overdose prevention site at Our Place would most likely shut down, McKenzie notes. Its presence in an area of town frequented by drug-addicted individuals has helped show what can be accomplished when a concerted effort is made to face a crisis head on.
While some residents at the Johnson residential building also use Our Place facilities, the ability to stay in-house to do one’s business will no doubt help save even more lives.