An interim, publicly accessible inhalation-focused overdose prevention service will soon open in downtown Victoria, as part of ongoing efforts to respond to the drug poisoning public health emergency and save lives of people who use illicit substances.
“The toxic drug supply is killing people at unprecedented levels. We know that over half of people who use drugs prefer to consume drugs through inhalation or smoking,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “We continue to add more witnessed inhalation sites because they save lives. The new temporary location in Victoria is an important part of our response to connect more people with life-saving harm reduction services where they can also access health and treatment programs.”
BC Coroners Service data shows that since 2017 smoking has been the most common mode of consumption.
“The toxic drug supply is continuing to cause fatal and non-fatal overdoses at a tragic, unacceptable rate across B.C. and here in Victoria,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer, Island Health. “An overdose prevention service focused on supporting individuals who inhale substances will help save lives and improve peoples’ connections with health care services and social supports. Island Health is grateful to the City of Victoria for its support in making this temporary site feasible.”
In Victoria, Island Health funds or directly operates two publicly accessible supervised consumption/overdose prevention sites ¬-- the Harbour and Rock Bay Landing. There is also a supervised consumption site, funded by Island Health for residents of the Johnson Street Community. Additionally, there are also Island Health-funded overdose response services across 10 supportive housing sites on the South Island. However, the services provided within supportive housing sites are available to building residents only, necessitating the need for a publicly accessible inhalation overdose prevention service in Victoria.
The new inhalation overdose prevention service will be an interim, temporary service operated as a satellite service of Island Health’s The Harbour Supervised Consumption Service located at 941 Pandora Ave. The Harbour itself does not have space or infrastructure such as venting to provide inhalation services.
The temporary inhalation site will be located across from The Harbour at 926 Pandora Avenue on a lot owned by the City of Victoria which is scheduled for redevelopment as affordable non-market housing and community amenities beginning in late 2022. Island Health has been searching for a permanent location for an inhalation-focused overdose prevention service in Victoria for over a year and has not been able to secure one. The Pandora site has emerged as the only suitable location for a temporary solution.
The temporary inhalation site is planned to open by mid to late November, or sooner, pending completion of construction and staff recruitment. The site will be operational for approximately 10 months. During this time, Island Health will continue to work to secure a permanent site for an inhalation overdose prevention service.
The temporary location will be outfitted with high quality structures including trailers for staff and supplies and a covered area with ventilation that minimizes outdoor smoke. Fencing, shrubs and greenery will be installed to decrease visibility and increase privacy.
The inhalation service will be open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will be able to accommodate up to 15 clients at a time. It will be operated in partnership with the same providers which operate The Harbour – Island Health, Lookout Health and Housing Society and SOLID Outreach. The staffing responsibilities include observing consumption, responding to overdoses, engaging with individuals and supporting client flow around the site and providing referrals to clients interested in treatment and other supportive community services. Island Health is also increasing funding for security on Pandora Avenue.
“We’re willing to provide City owned land on an interim basis while Island Health develops a longer-term solution in an effort to save lives in our community,” said City of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. “We are moving ahead to redevelop this site next year, in partnership with BC Housing and the Capital Regional Housing Corporation, to help revitalize the area and provide 220 units of housing for a range of income levels. Until then, this temporary solution will support people where they are at and will save lives.”
Island Health, SOLID and Lookout are committed to ongoing partnerships with the City of Victoria, Victoria Police and local service providers as well as ongoing engagement with Pandora neighbours. Processes to support this will be shared in the coming weeks.
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