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Vancouver alley tent offers alternative supervised injection site Add to ...

Sarah Blyth was weary of rushing to counteract an overdose every time someone screamed “Narcan!” from a nearby alley in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, so she joined other activists to set up a supervised drug-consumption tent for addicts.

Ms. Blyth acknowledges the so-called pop-up site is illegal, but said she couldn’t stand by and watch as people overdosed.

“We’re just trying to help,” said the former mental health worker who oversees a market space behind the small drug-consumption site where she volunteers. “It would be great if it wasn’t needed. But it is.”

The tent includes a half-dozen folding tables and various supplies including syringes, gloves and the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, known commercially as Narcan. It’s just around the corner from Insite, North America’s first legal supervised-injection site.

The tent gives people who, for whatever reason, won’t visit Insite and still want a place that is comfortable and safe to use their drugs and where someone can keep an eye on them in case of an overdose, said Ms. Blyth, who is among the volunteers trained to use naloxone.

The pop-up facility operates 10 hours a day, and Ms. Blyth estimates it has served about 100 people daily since opening more than three weeks ago.

The site is technically illegal, though Ms. Blyth said police have not intervened. “It’s one thing to hear about it or read about it in the newspapers. It’s another thing to see it first-hand,” she said of overdoses.

The city of Vancouver said in a statement that while it supports efforts to save drug users’ lives, the alley facility is neither sanctioned nor connected to the city.

Anna Marie D’Angelo, a spokeswoman for Vancouver Coastal Health, said the overdose-management site and its operators aren’t connected to the health authority. “We can’t fault their intentions but we can’t support or condone it,” Ms. D’Angelo said Thursday. “It’s not legal.”

Joel Nichols and Robin Wolfe use crystal methamphetamine and said they’ve been visiting the tent site since it opened.

Ms. Wolfe described the space as more welcoming than Insite, adding she couldn’t visit the official safe-injection site because it only allows drugs consumed by syringe and that she smokes her drugs. “It’s a lot safer for me to come here” compared with being on the streets, she said.

Mr. Nichols uses a needle to take drugs but said he still prefers the tent site.

“I don’t know why I prefer it,” he said, shrugging. “I just do.”

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