Safe injection sites: Surrey at a crossroads

How policy makers decide to address the growing drug problem will shape the city for years to come.

Surrey needs to cool the rhetoric and find a recovery-focused approach to its growing drug problem, addictions experts say.

The city is home to a growing level of drug abuse, mounting overdoses and frequent deaths, causing many to call for safe injection sites.

Last year, Surrey Fire Services responded to an average of 4.5 overdoses per day. That has climbed to about seven per day this year.

According to the B.C. Coroner’s Office, Surrey had 378 overdose fatalities in the last 10 years, with 71 of those occurring last year alone.

In the first six months of this year, there were 44 overdose fatalities in Surrey.

Since last year, there has been a huge spike in the amount of fentanyl mixed with street drugs.

Fentanyl is an often fatal opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

There has also been a emergence of a drug called W-18, of which very little is known. It is a painkiller (a suspected opioid) that is believed to be several times stronger than fentanyl.

Fraser Health is now saying communities need to be open to “safe consumption sites.”

The model many community members are looking at is Vancouver’s Insite – a safe injection site.

Insite, which opened in Vancouver 13 years ago, has been subject to more than 30 peer-reviewed studies, including those published in the New England Journal of Medicine in the U.S. and The Lancet, in Britain.

Critics say the studies have been widely criticized and that The Lancet took heat among academics for publishing one of them.

Most agree, however, the outcomes look promising.

There have been 263,713 visits to Insite by 6,532 individuals.

Of those, there were 1,418 overdoses at Insite, none of which were fatal.

However, some experts in addiction say the Insite model is not the answer for Surrey, or any other community facing the growing problem of addiction.

South Surrey’s Dr. Ray Baker, associate clinical professor at UBC’s faculty of medicine, directed the university’s original addiction medicine curriculum in the 1990s and has spent 30 years in occupational addiction medicine.

Baker said Surrey may or may not need a safe injection site.

However, he did say that what Surrey must have is policy that is crafted carefully, without emotion, backed by strong science.

“It needs to be integrated into a comprehensive recovery-oriented system,” Baker told The Leader. “This is a highly specialized decision that needs quite a lot of medical input.

“So far, Surrey hasn’t got it,” Baker said.

He said Surrey needs to make careful changes rather than “knee-jerk” moves, the latter of which will serve no one well.

“Part of (the solution) may be some harm-reduction measures,” said Baker, who served on former premier Gordon Campbell’s task force on addiction and also describes himself as in long-term recovery.

“I’m not the one to say whether an injection site is a good idea or a bad idea,” Baker said. “I’m not convinced I’ve seen evidence that they are very effective because the science supporting them is questionable and flawed.”

Marshall Smith, the executive director for Cedars Society, a recovery centre in Surrey and on Vancouver Island, agrees with Baker’s approach.

Smith said the people who are most affected are very sick people who have tremendous barriers to recovery, Smith said.

He said Surrey needs a “full and wholesome continuum of care.”

That should span from harm reduction measures such as safe consumption sites to long-term recovery.

“I would also call on the mayor to bring people who are in recovery into the conversation,” Smith said. “Bring people with lived experience, who have been out there, who have gone through treatment, who have found recovery, who are now in long-term recovery, who can look back and say ‘this is what I needed.’ “

The push for a safe injection site here has been swift and loud.

Ann Livingston, a volunteer with Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, set up a pop-up safe injection site in Whalley last week and said she will continue to push the issue in the future.

City officials have been watching closely, but have not yet shut down the makeshift site on 135A Street in Whalley.

Mayor Linda Hepner said she wants to see a full suite of services, including harm reduction, education, recovery and enforcement.

Any safe consumption services, she said, would be contained within existing supports, such as homeless shelters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

White Rock RCMP are searching for Richard John Lewis, who is wanted on warrants for assault and uttering threats. (RCMP handout)
White Rock RCMP searching for wanted man

Richard John Lewis is wanted on warrants for assault, uttering threats

(Photo: Twitter@SurreyRCMP)
Surrey Mounties, pet owners, bracing for Halloween

Last year the Surrey RCMP received 147 fireworks complaints on Diwali and 121 on Halloween

(Delta Police Department photo)
Delta police investigating after another teen girl followed in Tsawwassen

Police say a man in a burgundy car approached teen girls on at least two, possibly three occasions

partial graphic used in "Get Serious" campaign by Surrey business groups.
‘Get Serious’ message about COVID pushed by Surrey business groups fearing ‘economic shutdown’

‘Different social media messages will be sent out daily with significant messaging…’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

An untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point was donated to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by brothers Ian and Andrew Burchett. The painting had been in their family for several decades. (Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)
Never before seen painting by famed B.C. artist Emily Carr gifted to Victoria gallery

Painting among several donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

The B.C. Centre for Disease control is telling people to keep an eye out for the poisonous death cap mushroom, which thrives in fall weather conditions. (Paul Kroeger/BCCDC)
Highly poisonous death cap mushroom discovered in Comox

This marks first discovery on Vancouver Island outside Greater Victoria area

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Rescued bald eagle that came to life in B.C. man’s car had lead poisoning

Bird is on medication and recovering in rehab centre

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

The B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch has issued a decision about the actions of an elementary school teacher in Langley. (Langley Advance Times files)
Langley elementary teacher suspended for grabbing, shoving, yelling at kids

Roxann Rojas will lose her legal authority to teach for two weeks from Oct. 25 to Nov. 7, 2020

Most Read