Limited services for people who use drugs by smoking them in Campbell River is a serious challenge that needs to be addressed immediately, according to the community’s outgoing provider of overdose prevention services (OPS).
“This is a serious concern, especially after COVID-19 interrupted the street supply stream of injectable drugs like heroin in Campbell River,” said Sarah Delaney-Spindler, manager for AIDS Vancouver Island’s (AVI) Campbell River office.
AIDS Vancouver Island’s contract with Island Health to provide overdose prevention services (OPS) runs out on June 1. The new contract has been awarded to Vancouver Island Mental Health Society.
The medical health officer from Island health, Dr Charmaine Enns told the Mirror that they were concerned about the “low utilization of OPS” in Campbell River and that they wanted to expand the services to more substance users in Campbell River.
Dr. Enns also said that the OPS utilization number in Campbell River was one of the lowest on Vancouver Island.
Responding to Dr. Enns’ concerns of ‘low utilization’ numbers in Campbell River, Delaney- Spindler said that unless the overdose prevention services are expanded to include the growing tide of inhalant users in Campbell River, it’s going to be difficult to increase the percentage of OPS utilization in Campbell River.
She said that people are moving to more readily available substances like methamphetamine and crack which are consumed via inhalation – smoking.
On May 11, Island Health issued a drug-overdose advisory for all of Vancouver Island after a spike in overdose deaths “from opioids and stimulants with an increased risk of smoking.”
Although the harm reduction services operated by AVI provide clean supplies to users who inhale these drugs, there is no way to support them in safe consumption. This option is currently available only for injectable drug users in the Campbell River OPS centre, where an overdose prevention room is available for safe usage and monitoring.
Inhalation services consist of a safe space or room with industrial venting or an outside tent where people can smoke substances and service providers can monitor them to avoid instances of overdose.
There is a strong number of inhalant users that are not catered to says Delaney-Spindler based on the data of harm reduction supplies that they distribute.
“The amount of pipes used for smoking crack and methamphetamine that we distribute are quite high,” said Delaney-Spindler.
Delaney-Spindler has said that many of the harm reduction clients that she has interacted with, and who are solely inhalant drug users, have voiced the disparity they feel when they see people who inject are better supported than them.
OPS providers across Vancouver Island who provide both inhalation and injection services see higher number of OPS utilization, said Delaney-Spindler.
Since AVI started out as the OPS provider in Campbell River in 2017, Delaney-Spindler has said that she has seen an increase in the number of overdose cases linked to inhalant drugs.
She also said that AVI had repeatedly communicated these concerns to Island Health, and they also requested funding to set up inhalation services at the OPS centre in Campbell River.
When asked about the lack of inhalant services in Campbell River, Island health spokesperson Dominic Abassi replied in an email statement, “Island Health contracts for overdose prevention services. Where a contracted service provider is able to offer witnessed inhalation based on local needs and demand, capacity and suitability of the site, and ability to mitigate impact for neighbours, we support them in doing so.”