Island Health expressed “deep concern and disappointment” with a proposed motion made by a Campbell River councillor to look into costs related to overdose prevention sites in the city.
The motion was up for debate at the Dec. 5 council meeting, which took place after this edition of the Mirror went to print. Coun. Sean Smyth proposed the motion, which would have city staff look at direct and indirect costs that are borne by the city as a result of overdose prevention sites, safe injection sites and other social services for people experiencing addiction or mental health issues. The motion would include policing, fire and public works costs. Staff would also be directed to work with the Business Improvement Area (BIA) and the Campbell River School District for more information.
“Some individuals who utilize the services of the overdose prevention sites and safe injection sites leave under the influence of drugs which can lead to disorderly behaviour, urination, defecation, vandalism, illegal camping and safety issues which have a negative impact on businesses, and residents in the surrounding area, and on city resources and the community as a whole,” the notice of motion reads.
Island Health wrote a letter to the city, signed by Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns and Sheila Leadbetter, executive Director mental Heatlh Substance Use, “to express our deep concern and disappointment with the proposed motion.”
“We recognize the pressures this system faces in the current context of rising demand and note the significant investments made by the Province in recent years to improve service access. Progress is being made despite the challenges presented by health human resource shortages and the high cost of housing,” the letter, which was included in the Dec. 5 council agenda package, says.
According to the letter, since overdose prevention services were introduced in Campbell River in 2017, “not a single person has died while accessing these services, despite hundreds of thousands of visits.”
“There is no doubt that without overdose prevention and harm reduction services, there would be increased fatalities and harm within our communities,” Island Health’s letter says. “Singling out this service in Campbell River is highly stigmatizing and minimizes the importance of these health care services for the people they serve, their friends and their families.”
The letter says that if a comprehensive analysis is done, it should include the positive health benefits for those receiving service and negative impacts on the health care system that would arise if clients no longer have access to safe overdose prevention sites.
“We want to acknowledge the societal challenges related to increased and increasingly-visible poverty, homelessness and mental health and substance use within the City of Campbell River. These challenges are, tragically, being experienced across North America and also occur in high prevalence in communities that do not have overdose prevention services,” the letter says. “The reasons behind these challenges are societal and complex, and require multi-pronged, compassionate approaches across the governmental, social, housing, educational and health sectors. Success depends on partners working together.”
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