Victoria – Island Health, in partnership with PHS Community Services Society (PHS), has submitted a second application for a supervised consumption service in Victoria. If approved by Health Canada, the service will be the first on Vancouver Island to embed supervised consumption services into a housing facility for vulnerable, high risk individuals. It will be open to building residents and registered guests only.
“Island Health is committed to creating an accessible, multi-site model for supervised consumption services that embeds social supports, harm reduction and treatment options for clients of the service,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer with Island Health. “By building a supervised consumption service into the range of social and clinical services already offered at the Johnson Street Community residential facility, residents and their registered guests have safer drug use services on-site with improved ability to connect users with treatment services such as Suboxone.”
The Johnson Street Community, located at 844 Johnson Street, is home to approximately 145 high-risk, marginalized residents. The building is owned by BC Housing with PHS operating the building and providing range of social, occupational and primary care services. Since December 2016, the site has operated an Overdose Prevention Service. Approximately 170 unique residents and guests have used this service for a total of 3,600 visits; PHS staff have responded to two overdoses and there have been no deaths.
“The Overdose Prevention Unit – and supervised consumption services generally – saves lives,” says Andy Bond, Senior Director of Housing at PHS. “By shifting to a more formal supervised consumption service, PHS will be able to improve services for our residents and strengthen connections to treatment and long-term recovery, while also ensuring the service can continue to operate as a government service.”
PHS is already seeing success supporting clients living with opioid addiction at the Johnson Street Community. PHS also offers care from a specialist addictions-trained family medicine physician, resulting in a number of Johnson Street Community residents accessing various forms of treatment, including methadone and Suboxone therapy.
“The service model proposed in this application is part of the ongoing evolution of supervised consumption service models in Canada that are tailored to local community realities,” said Jennifer Breakspear, Executive Director at PHS. “The large, free-standing model of Insite opened by PHS in 2003, works well for the Downtown Eastside, but we’re gradually seeing shifts in supervised consumption services that involve smaller operations that are embedded with other programs and services – including housing.”
The supervised consumption service at 844 Johnson Street will be operated by PHS, which will provide the program under contract with – and funding from – Island Health. Island Health will maintain oversight and accountability for the service.
On January 3, 2017, Island Health submitted an application to operate a 10-booth supervised consumption service at 941 Pandora Street. This application is currently being reviewed by Health Canada. Renovations to the site are expected to begin shortly and, pending Health Canada approval, the site is expected to be open in 2018.
Public feedback on three proposed locations for supervised consumption services in Victoria took place in November 2016. These locations included the two for which applications have now been submitted. At this time, Island Health has no immediate plans to establish a supervised consumption service in Rock Bay, the third area that was subject to public consultation in Victoria. The health authority is planning to establish a supervised consumption service in Nanaimo; however a recent decision by local government to deny a required by-law change, means Island Health’s original aim to submit an application for a service in Nanaimo will now be delayed.
As of April 30, 488 individuals had died in British Columbia in 2017 from illicit drug overdose. Eighty-four of those deaths occurred within Island Health’s geographic service area, including 37 deaths in Victoria alone. Prevention, harm reduction and treatment initiatives, including increased education, enhanced outreach services, wider naloxone distribution and training, improved access to opioid replacement therapy, additional treatment beds and the opening of eight overdose prevention sites are all crucial components of Island Health’s comprehensive response to the overdose crisis.
Supervised consumption services support the work of the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response established in 2016. As part of the wide range of actions taken, partners across the health system continue to expand access to life-saving naloxone, opioid addiction treatments such as Suboxone and overdose prevention sites, work with Health Canada on approvals to open additional supervised consumption sites and improve the system of substance use services.
Meribeth Burton, Media Relations
Lesli Boldt, Communications
PHS Community Services Society