Downtown Victoria and Rock Bay have been identified as sites to establish two new supervised consumption sites for the region.
On Tuesday, Island Health announced it’s looking at a distributed, multi-site model for Victoria to allow people a safe and clean environment to inject drugs. They will also be provided with public health services, mental health and substance use supports and referrals, engagement and connection with other social and health services.
According to Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s chief medical health officer, most overdoses in Victoria occur near the two sites at 941 Pandora Ave. and 2920 Bridge St. From Nov. 2 to Nov. 12, there were 26 overdoses in the Rock Bay area alone.
There have been 44 overdose deaths in Victoria this year so far.
“The overdoses aren’t going away and by and large they’re concentrated in those two areas. These are two locations where we can do a lot of good by having this medical service available,” Stanwick said.
“It’s another tool that we have in our toolbox to reduce overdose deaths . . . Rather than seeing this as a negative, it should be seen as a positive.”
When people come to the sites, they will be provided with clean needles and supplies, and can go into one of the five to 10 injection booths at the site, where a trained professional will oversee them to ensure there’s no sign of an overdose.
Then the individual will go to a chill out area to ensure there’s no delayed reaction, at which point staff will engage with health and social services issues. There will also be a third private location at the former Central Care Home on Johnson Street, which was recently set up to house former residents of tent city.
Advocates have been calling for a supervised consumption site in Victoria for many years. Bruce Wallace, assistant professor at the University of Victoria and a collaborating scientist with the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C., said it has been a long time coming, and hopes the services will be culturally safe for people who use drugs.
“We have the highest rates of overdoses in the province. We have very high rates of public injecting. We really want to make sure these are services that can meet the volume of need, that they’re adequately funded and that they’re culturally safe in that the people who use the services are engaged in the service delivery,” he said, adding he hopes the site will also offer safer substances such as prescription heroin in light of drugs like fentanyl.
Canada’s only supervised consumption site called Insite is located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
There, more than three million injections have taken place in the past 15 years without an overdose death.
Acting Victoria police chief Del Manak is optimistic the initiative will reduce public drug consumption, reduce the discarding of supplies in public spaces and reduce reported incidents of public disorder, he said in a release.
Stanwick acknowledged there will be some public backlash to the idea, but said the sites will not draw people to the area because it is in the area where most users will already be — those who use the services won’t travel far distances to take advantage of the service.
Island Health hopes to submit an application to Health Canada by the end of the year for approval. In the coming weeks, Island Health will be seeking feedback on the proposed sites.
There will be two drop-in public meetings on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at the Centennial United Church from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and the following night at city hall from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Feedback can also be provided by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through an online survey at viha.ca/scs until Dec. 2.