Mayor Linda Hepner

Mayor Linda Hepner

Surrey mayor rethinking harm reduction

A flood of overdoses in Whalley over the weekend has Linda Hepner considering safe places to consume drugs

Rocked by more than 40 drug overdoses in Whalley over the weekend, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner is reconsidering a long-standing stance in the city around harm reduction.

There were 43 overdoses in North Surrey over the weekend, much of them a result of fentanyl-laced crack cocaine.

Fraser Health Authority (FHA) is now issuing warnings to mitigate the dangers of lethal fentanyl and its powerful cousin, W-18, of which little is known.

Hepner was deeply concerned over the number of overdoses in Whalley and said several things need to be ushered into place in order to save lives.

Among them, she said, is the possibility of  supervised “safe consumption” sites where people could use illegal drugs in relative safety.

Surrey has long looked at Vancouver with disapproval over its safe injection sites and has said no such thing would be coming here.

However, Hepner said Monday it might be time to consider something like that for Surrey. However, she still disapproves of the “stand-alone” facilities in Vancouver.

The Surrey services would be provided at homeless shelters and would offer a safe place and supports for people to get away from the addictive lifestyle should they become ready.

“Is there a space within the vulnerable population, say a shelter, where we could have what I would call a ‘safe consumption site?’ ” Hepner asked, adding it would also include those who are injecting drugs.

“Some element of safety and consumption has got to happen, or we’re going to see a lot of …  I mean, we are lucky there are no deaths so far,” Hepner said.

The fact she is open to the possibility of harm reduction sites represents a quantum shift in Surrey’s stance on this issue.

The mayor said she would insist the proper support services are there for people using the sites.

“I would hope that it would be in line with getting out of that lifestyle altogether,” Hepner said. “When it’s not, a more educated piece on how to be safe within our shelters and on the street.”

Hepner said it’s early planning and all the details are not all known yet. She also noted she is only speaking for herself, not council as a whole.

“I think the majority of my council is still against injection sites,” Hepner said. “It’s not a matter that has come before us.”

She said she’s been asked by FHA to come up with a short-term plan to address the increasing drug dangers.

That could include having life-saving naloxone available to everyone who can use it, including the opiate user.

When administered, naloxone temporarily nullifies the effects of opioids, such as fentanyl and heroin.

Hepner also wants more education for people who use at home.

The bottom line of any policy adjustments in this regard is saving lives, Hepner said.