Fraser Health is moving to create two safe drug consumption sites in Surrey, in response to the growing overdose crisis.
And the city is giving the plan an early nod – with conditions.
Surrey Coun. Bruce Hayne said the city would consider such sites as long as they were part of a suite of other support services, and provided they operate as a two-year pilot program.
If approved, one safe consumption site would be located on “The Strip” in Whalley on 135A Street near 106 Avenue, and one would be situated at Quibble Creek Sobering Centre on 94A Avenue, across from Surrey Memorial Hospital near 138 Street.
“Surrey, along with the rest of the province, has experienced a tragic spike in overdose fatalities, and supervised consumption services could help reduce the number of people dying,” said B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake.
“We have strong evidence from Insite (in Vancouver) that supervised consumption services reduce the transmission of disease, reduce fatal overdoses and help connect people to health care services. The province continues to push the federal government to reform the unnecessarily onerous application process, which creates significant barriers and delays in establishing these needed health services.”
Both Surrey sites would be adjacent to existing health care providers, with the Quibble Creek Sobering Centre having medical treatment available and the 135A Street site being beside Health Solutions, an outpatient clinic for AIDS patients.
“We know that embedding supervised consumption with other health care services will help us better engage with at-risk populations and provide a more comprehensive approach to managing their health care needs,” said Fraser Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Victoria Lee. “By implementing supervised consumption services and increasing access to addictions treatment, we are going to be able to more meaningfully engage in harm reduction and treatment activities.”
Fraser Health will also expand access to opioid substitution treatments such as methadone in the coming months in Maple Ridge at Alouette Addictions Services, and at Abbotsford Community Services.
In October, overdoses claimed 63 lives across B.C., the highest monthly death toll since April.
The total deaths reported by the B.C. Coroners Service stands at 622 for the year up to the end of October, up markedly from the 397 deaths in the same 10 months of 2015.
The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl continues to be linked to approximately 60 per cent of the fatalities – 332 cases in all or three times as many as the same period last year.
More than one-third of the total overdose deaths – 211 – have happened in the Fraser Health region, compared to 147 in Vancouver Coastal, 120 on Vancouver Island and 108 in the Interior.
The top cities where deaths have occurred so far this year are Vancouver (124), Surrey (76), Victoria (51), Kelowna (37), Kamloops (31), Abbotsford (28) and Maple Ridge (24).
In the coming weeks, Fraser Health will facilitate one-on-one meetings with key stakeholder groups in the proposed neighbourhoods and will host open information sessions for residents in these areas.
Hayne said providing such services are often controversial, but noted the city has to do it’s part to help those affected by the lethal drugs.
He noted, the longer term goal is to bring them some level of recovery.
“Before we help these people, we have to save their life first,” Hayne said.