Fears over impacts of Vernon's overdose prevention site haven't materialized | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Fears over impacts of Vernon's overdose prevention site haven't materialized

The overdose prevention site room.
August 17, 2020 - 4:48 PM

A controversial downtown Vernon overdose prevention site has not generated the anti-social behaviour some feared it would.

The Vernon overdose prevention site opened in May, almost one year later than planned, after Interior Health paused the project to conduct more community consultation following concerns over crowds gathering outside and fear the clinic would cause a spike in anti-social behaviour in the area.

However, Vernon North Okanagan RCMP Supt. Shawna Baher told Vernon council, Aug. 17, nothing had been brought to her attention regarding issues at the site.

The police chief's sentiments were echoed by councillors Brian Quiring and Akbal Mund.

Coun. Mund said he had not seen anybody hanging around outside the 3306A 32 Avenue location since the Interior Health site had been transformed from a drop-in clinic to an overdose prevention site.

"You don't see what you used to see outside that site," Mund said.

Coun. Quiring's company's office sits across the road from the site.

"We have not had any issues, any incidents," Quiring said. "It's actually better than it was."

However, council also heard that the overdose prevention site had not been heavily used.

Interior Health Authority mental health and substance use director Colleen McEwan told council between one and four drug users used the site daily. Most of those using the site were thought to be homeless, although Interior Health does not track those details, so a definitive answer couldn't be given.

Council heard how the province had seen a significant increase in toxic drug deaths. Within the Interior Health Authority's region, 21 people had died from drug overdoses in May and 27 in June — nearly one death every day.

In Vernon, in the first six months of 2020, nine people died from drug overdoses. In 2019, 15 people died from drug overdoses in the city.

McEwan said three people overdosed at the prevention clinic since it opened, but stressed the overdoses were minor and did not require the use of oxygen or naloxone and were dealt with in-house by staff at the clinic.

Coun. Kari Gares asked why it wasn't seeing higher usage. The pandemic and construction outside the clinic were put forward as possible factors.

"I think there has been a lot of stigma about this site," Interior Health Dr. Karin Goodison told the meeting adding there had been a lot of negative attention about the site prior to its opening.

Interior Health agreed it would keep council updated with regular appearances at council meetings.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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