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opioid crisis

The supervised injection room at Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation building in Vancouver. The Dr. Peter Centre already offers clients methadone and buprenorphine-naloxone (Suboxone), along with its small-scale supervised-injection service.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Health Canada has approved Victoria's first supervised drug-use site.

The department announced its approval on Thursday, clearing the way for the Vancouver Island Health Authority to allow drug users to consume narcotics in the presence of medical staff.

The health authority said that Victoria has B.C.'s third-highest rate of overdose deaths and that drug users at the new facility will have access to counselling, the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and staff who can connect them with treatment.

Judy Darcy, who is B.C.'s new minister of mental health and addictions, said Victoria's supervised drug-use site is part of a broader strategy of offering people a safe place to use drugs.

"There is no one single solution to the overdose crisis," Ms. Darcy said in a statement. "We must deliver a broad strategy so that when people need services, they ask once and get the help they need fast."

The supervised drug-use site will be named the Pandora Community Health and Wellness Centre and will replace a nearby temporary overdose-prevention site that opened last December.

Local advocates have been calling for supervised drug-use facility for more than a year, with a local group called Yes2SCS – a coalition of health-care professionals, social workers, researchers and activists – promising to open one on its own if that didn't happen.

The province's coroner said of the 967 people died of drug overdoses in B.C. last year, 67 were in Victoria.

The health authority said it supported such services but said it could only begin exploring it after the current Liberal government replaced the federal Conservatives, who were opposed to supervised drug-use sites and fought an unsuccessful court battle to shut down what at the time was the the only federally approved site, located in Vancouver.

The overdose crisis prompted B.C. to declare a public-health emergency last year. Provincial health authorities have implemented a series of policies aimed at stemming overdose deaths, including overdose prevention sites that operated without federal approval, but monthly statistics show the problem continues to get worse.

The Canadian Press with files from staff

New federal legislation to legalize marijuana would include allowing police to test drivers’ saliva for drugs. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says three new offenses related to driving while on drugs would also be added.

The Canadian Press