Kamloops city council has voted unanimously to support the concept of a supervised site where people can consume illicit drugs under medical supervision amid a surge in overdose deaths in the city.
In the first half of this year, 22 people died of drug overdoses in Kamloops, which has a population of roughly 86,000. In comparison, seven people died of drug overdoses in all of 2015. The city had not exceeded 11 overdose deaths a year in at least the past decade.
The sharp increase mirrors the B.C. trend as communities outside of the Lower Mainland are coming around to harm-reduction measures that they had never contemplated before. Colin Basran, the mayor of Kelowna, has also expressed support for a supervised consumption site in his city.
“I think the world’s changed a lot over the last 15 years, when the first one opened up down in Vancouver,” Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar said Tuesday. “To try to basically close our eyes and think people aren’t using the alleyways and things like that, I think is a mistake as well.”
Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall declared a public health emergency in April, noting that, at the current rate, between 600 and 800 British Columbians were projected to die of illicit drug overdose deaths this year.
On Tuesday, Silvina Mema, medical health officer for the Interior Health Authority, made the case to Kamloops city council on supervised consumption service. From June 1 to Aug. 30, 108 people had suffered non-fatal overdoses in the Interior Health region, she said. Of those, 42 were on the street, 45 in private residences and 21 in hotels, shelters or other community agencies.
“There are a lot of overdoses in public spaces; that is what I’m trying to say,” Dr. Mema told council. Supervised consumption service would aim to reduce the number of overdose deaths, reduce the nuisance of public drug use, and improve life situations for people who use drugs by connecting them to the health care system, Dr. Mema said.
She added that the service would not be a panacea for the region’s overdose problems, but serve as one crucial service among several.
The health authority is contemplating one site on each side of the Thompson River but this will depend on community feedback and the availability of sites and resources, Dr. Mema said in an interview. They would be integrated into existing clinics – more like Vancouver’s Dr. Peter Centre, rather than a stand-alone facility like Insite.
Mr. Milobar said he still has many questions about the service – such as location, hours of operation and how it will be funded – but that “there’s obviously a problem going on” that requires new interventions.
“I’m not supporting this because I think this is the magical solution to everything, but it’s certainly another step in trying to find some way to lessen the impacts on personal lives as well as on the community in general,” he said.
Councillor Marg Spina called this year’s 22 deaths “staggering” and noted that many people are injecting in restaurants and back alleys. Council will also have to look into the number of detox beds available and other treatment options, as “we need to have a whole compendium of resources at hand,” she said.
Dr. Mema said the health authority is liaising with Health Canada about the application process. Others have criticized the Respect for Communities Act – imposed under the previous Conservative government – for making it too onerous to open a consumption site, but Dr. Mema said she believes there is a new willingness on the part of Health Canada to assist prospective operators with their applications and expedite the approval process.
At present, Vancouver remains the only city in North America with authorized supervised consumption sites. The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is aiming to apply this fall to open three to five more.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority says it aims to submit applications by year’s end for supervised consumption service on Vancouver Island, with an initial focus on Victoria.
In the first half of this year, at least 433 people died of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. – a 74-per-cent increase over the same period last year. Illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, has been detected in about 60 per cent of these deaths.Report Typo/Error