Vernon shelter believes safe drug use area would reduce overdoses, discarded needles | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon shelter believes safe drug use area would reduce overdoses, discarded needles

Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
April 13, 2018 - 4:30 PM

VERNON - With no supervised drug consumption site currently available in Vernon, one local agency is exploring the idea of giving people a safe place to use their drugs.

Kelly Fehr, co-executive director for the John Howard Society of the North Okanagan, says the organization already offers harm reduction supplies at its shelters but wants to take things a step further.

Drug use is not allowed at either Howard House or the Gateway Shelter, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening in the shadows, Fehr says.

“We know drug use is happening in bathrooms and corners,” Fehr says.

That’s evidenced by an average of seven non-fatal overdoses a month at shelters over the past year, Fehr says.

Other shelter residents leave the facility and use down the street, in alleyways, parks or bathrooms. They often use alone, which is one of the main risk factors for suffering a fatal overdose. Unlike Kelowna and Kamloops, Vernon has no provincially funded safe consumption service. 

With a new shelter, Our Place, opening up this summer, Fehr says they are strongly investigating the idea of having a designated drug consumption area to bring the activity out of the shadows.

“We want to make sure they (clients) aren’t having to hide,” Fehr says. “We want to make sure staff know when clients are using and be able to keep an eye on them so we can respond quicker and reduce the number of overdoses.”

He says the creation of a safe consumption site in Vernon is long overdue, and while the service at Our Place would be exclusively for shelter residents, he believes it would positively impact the wider community.

“There would likely be fewer needles showing up in the community,” Fehr says.

If approved, Fehr says a safe drug use area would only be rolled out at Our Place, located on 43 Street. He anticipates the service would also include drug testing to determine exactly what substances individuals are consuming. Fehr says other shelters in B.C. have already introduced safe drug use rooms at their facilities.

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