Drug consumption sites to be part of Fraser strategy on overdoses

Fraser Health pledges to identify priority locations for safe use after spike in overdoses in Surrey

First responders perform CPR on a drug overdose victim in Surrey Saturday night on 108 Avenue near 135A Street.

Fraser Health will quickly identify priority sites for supervised drug consumption as part of a broader strategy to contain a surge in illicit drug overdoses.

Surrey is certain to be one of the proposed locations, but health authority officials aren’t yet saying if they will also propose sites in other drug-troubled downtowns such as Langley City, Maple Ridge and Abbotsford.

“We’re at early stages of identifying priority communities and having initial conversations, dialogue and engagement with municipalities,” said Dr. Victoria Lee, Fraser’s chief medical health officer.

Health authority officials made the announcement after a sudden surge in overdoses in the north Surrey area, with 43 recorded over the weekend.

Lee said sites will be chosen based on where the most benefit is possible, using data on overdoses, as well as fatalities from the B.C. Coroners Service.

RELATED: ‘Dramatic’ spike in Surrey overdoses prompts warning, fear of more lethal drugs

Vancouver has B.C.’s only two supervised injection sites so far, but Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has indicated it will seek up to five more, while other health authorities are expected to pursue them in cities such as Victoria, Kelowna and Kamloops.

Fraser Health had not before signaled its intent to pursue supervised consumption sites, so named because they serve not just injection drug users.

It’s not expected to be a speedy process.

Under the federal Respect For Communities Act passed by the former Conservative government, proposed consumption sites seeking an exemption must be backed by extensive documentation, including support letters from the local municipality and police force.

Some public health officials – notably provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall – have called for the repeal of the federal legislation and expedited approvals, but for now the law stands.

“Fraser Health intends to work very closely with our municipalities to reach out and to ensure that there’s engagement and dialogue in place to successfully apply for the exemption,” Lee said, adding that process has begun in some cases.

“We have engaged with some of the communities, such as Surrey, where we have seen significant increases in the need for that service.”

Even more modest harm reduction strategies have at times been controversial among Fraser Valley politicians.

Supporters say supervised use sites greatly reduce fatal overdoses and the spread of infectious disease among users, while also providing an avenue to connect those at risk to services that could help transform their lives.

Opponents believe they have the effect of entrenching drug use in communities and favour a less tolerant approach.

Health Minister Terry Lake supported the push for new supervised sites after the declaration of a public health emergency this spring as the number of fatal overdoses climbed.

An emailed statement from the health ministry says supervised injection services such as Insite in Vancouver are proven to save lives, reduce disease spread and connect users to other services, such as detox.

“We view these as public health issues, and harm reduction programs like supervised injection services are a key part of our evidence-based approach,” said the ministry statement.

It says any new supervised sites must have support of all levels of government, the community and other stakeholders.

“Given the recent spike in overdoses in Surrey and the current public health emergency – this is a discussion that needs to take place. It appears that the new federal government recognizes the health benefits of supervised injections services and is much more supportive of such facilities than the previous administration.”

Fraser Health says its recently approved overdose prevention and response strategy goes far beyond supervised sites.

“There is no single solution to the public health emergency we are facing,” Lee said. “It is a complex concern that requires a multi-faceted approach to prevent overdoses, encourage safe consumption, and provide treatment options.”

The region last fall began increasing the number of take-home naloxone kits provided to overdose patients who end up in emergency departments. All 12 emergency departments are now registered to dispense the antidote kits.

Officials say 857 take-home naloxone kits were dispensed via emergency department staff, public health units or community partners between January and May, a 10-fold increase from 2015.

Lee said Fraser will also continue region-wide efforts to equip at-risk populations and their friends and family with naloxone, including the use of police and fire departments, BC Housing and other organizations.

Also promised are public awareness campaigns targeting different types of drug users and better supports to improve access to opioid substitution such as suboxone.

No overdose victims from over the weekend died, but some were admitted to hospital and Lee said they’ve required up to six times more naloxone than usual to reverse their overdoses – a sign highly potent drugs are involved.

“While people believe that they may be taking crack cocaine, it’s actually fentanyl that’s coming back positive as well as crack cocaine,” she said.

There have been 127 overdose deaths in the Fraser Health region in the first six months of this year.

Just Posted

Langley Cruise-In makes some changes for second year in Aldergrove

The annual car show will adjust its site and brings in a new “guest star.”

Housing vote a no-go in Langley until autumn

There is no vote planned on the Langley supportive housing project.

VIDEO: Langley couple reunite with Tugger three years after his disappearance

A purebred Pomeranian is back with his parents, likely after years in a puppy mill.

Popular Langley Christmas show adds new Glow to winter

Glow Christmas is being joined by an autumn Glow event. Events far afield are also planned.

Educational videos for rodeo athletes address concussions, mental health

Ty Pozzobon Foundation, Canadian Pro Sports Medicine Team produce series

Stolen sunshade puts damper on Lower Mainland woman’s pet-relief effort

Broken umbrella taken from White Rock lawn ‘within 10 minutes’

Wildfires erupt in B.C. Okanagan forcing evacuation orders and a highway closure

Check out a list of up-to-date information on blazes happening within the Kamloops Wildfire Centre.

‘Amazing Race Canada’ competitors face B.C. challenge

They drove Corvettes, mastered falconry basics, and ate blueberry pie in the Cowichan Valley

Teen killed by train remembered for his love

Friends and family share stories of young Crescent Beach train victim

Grizzly bear jumps in river, chases B.C. kayaker

The bear got a bit too close for comfort along the Elaho River near Squamish

Parks Canada looks to shine light on cloudy future for historic sites

A plan is in place to produce 10-year plans designed to turn around sagging attendance figures

Island man convicted of 1999 sex assault at Fraser Valley music festival

James Allen Redden, formerly of Nanaimo, was found guilty of three charges

B.C. poet shines a bright light on struggle with homelessness

Book launch for John La Greca’s Homeless Memorial is at Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo July 21.

Ontario police say attack on Muslim man was motivated by hate

Two men, aged 27 and 19, have been charged with assault in the incident

Most Read