Interior Health pushing forward with mobile safe drug use units for Kamloops and Kelowna

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KELOWNA - The Interior Health Authority is going ahead with an application to the federal government for two mobile safe drug consumption sites for Kamloops and Kelowna.

Kamloops and Kelowna are continuing to experience the highest number of overdose deaths in Interior Health, B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said in a news release.

"Kamloops had well over four times as many overdose deaths last year than in 2015 and in Kelowna the numbers have doubled."

The health authority has met with local stakeholders to inform them the applications to Health Canada are moving forward. The decision to move forward with the controversial sites came after consultation with the public and stakeholders, and is supported by data, according to a press release.

If approved, the mobile units will be able to service multiple areas of each city. In both Kamloops and Kelowna, the health authority found the need was in two distinct areas. In Kamloops, overdoses predominantly happen in the downtown and North Shore neighbourhoods, while in Kelowna it’s concentrated around the downtown core and Rutland, chief medical health officer Dr. Trevor Corneil says.

“Through our conversations with people who use drugs and other community stakeholders, we know that selecting the right time and place to offer this service will be crucial to its success,” Corneil says.

The mobile sites would be an RV or small bus with appropriate medical equipment operated by a health care worker.

The application hasn’t been submitted yet, and once it has been, the health authority doesn’t know how long it will take for the federal government to make a decision.

Corneil says he hopes the application will be complete by mid-February at the latest. 

"We don't actually have a timeline in terms of how quickly Health Canada will turn things around," Corneil said at a news conference. "We're not expecting the exemption for several months, should we be granted one."

Lake says he thinks going forward with the application is the right thing to do, despite how controversial the subject may be.

"We know, historically, that businesses particularly have had concerns about supervised consumption sites and I think we really need to ensure that the businesses in Kamloops as well as the people of Kamloops understand the benefits," Lake says.

Corneil says the past six months have been all about consulting with community stakeholders to gather their opinions and suggestions. He says there have been multiple meetings in both cities with business improvement associations, RCMP detachments and fire departments.

The Downtown Kelowna Association, which was critical of earlier plans, issued a statement Friday saying it supports the mobile units. 

“We have had many positive meetings with Interior Health and recognize that they are working hard on the fentanyl crisis," says president Dan Allen. "They have been very open with us about the crisis and have listened to our point of view. Interior Health has told us that consultations with stakeholders will continue and the Downtown Kelowna Association will remain involved. We are pleased to be part of the process."

"This health emergency is not limited to downtown; unfortunately it is in every neighbourhood in our region wherever people are using drugs whether they are chronic users or recreational ones. We have talked extensively with Interior Health about a mobile unit which would travel to parts of the community where overdoses are happening right now. In our discussions, we believe a mobile unit will reach more people and have a greater impact. We support Interior Health’s decision today to ask Health Canada for approval to create a mobile unit.”

– This story was updated at 4:40 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 to include more information from Health Minister Terry Lake and chief medical health officer Trevor Corneil.

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