August 10, 2016 - 6:30 PM
KAMLOOPS - The sooner Kamloops city council can see a doctor, the sooner the city may see safe consumption services to help deal with the rising number of overdose deaths.
With drastic increases in overdose deaths across B.C. and the health emergency declared by the provincial government, Interior Health Authority public health officer Dr. Silvina Mema says safe consumption services are needed quickly. In Kamloops, she hopes to be in front of council before the end of August or early September.
“Kamloops is the one that is the most concerning with the number of deaths,” she says. “It’s a very controversial subject. I want to see where we are with Kamloops before we go too far.”
In Kamloops there were 22 overdose deaths in the first six months of the year, compared to seven the year before. Between January 1 and May 31, 2016, 31 deaths in the Interior Health region were connected to fentanyl.
Kelowna is also being considered for a location as well, though Mema says a site in both cities is possible.
“We’re considering at least one in each town,” she says. “This is not a debate of which city should get it.”
While talking to city representatives is one step, Mema says there are three other major steps to go through. On a national level, Health Canada needs to approve an exception to a federal health act, though Mema says they’re aware of the emergency in B.C. and willing to expedite the process.
Regionally, the health authority needs to make sure there’s money for the project. Because it’s an emergency Mema says funds are available to start the services up, but she isn’t sure about long term sustainability once the emergency is declared over.
“Internally IHA is paying for this and we don’t have an unlimited budget,” she says. “To get it started my understanding is that we have the resources.”
Locally, while council may approve of the idea, the community and business associations need to be consulted about the location. Support is expected, she says, as areas likely considered for a safe drug consumption site will be areas already frequented by users. If there is strong opposition, the authority could reconsider the location.
“We need to be very strategic in which location we choose,” Mema says.
Adding a safe consumption service would move drug use off the street to a location where needles can be disposed of and overdoses observed and reversed, she says.
“Yes, we want to reduce the number of deaths, but we also want to reduce the amount of public drug use,” she says.
The third goal of a safe consumption site is to offer a way out of drug addiction.
Installing a safe consumption service location would be fairly simple, she says.
"It’s just a table and two chairs," Mema says. "So people who were injecting in the bathroom can sit in a chair."
She says the essential part is the safe space for the drugs to be consumed with a nurse to observe in case of overdose. It wouldn’t necessarily require a stand-alone site so finding space shouldn’t be too hard. Community acceptance is likely to be a larger hurdle.
B.C. already has two safe injection sites, but both are in Vancouver, the only city in Canada with official services. Mema says Insite, the long running services location in the downtown east side, has never had an overdose death inside its doors.
“Vancouver has had Insite for over a decade now, and there’s a lot research that came from that that shows the benefits,” she says.
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