The number one priority at the overdose prevention site in Duncan is to save lives, according to Sean Redmond.
Redmond, a harm reduction worker at the site, said other priorities include providing referrals to other services that drug users require, including information on detox programs, but the main focus at the OPS is to provide a safe and clean place for users to consume their drugs.
The overdose prevention site, located at 221 Trunk Rd., held an open house on May 8 and invited the public to take a tour of the facility.
“One of the reasons for the open house is to try dispel the misinformation that is out there about this site,” Redmond said.
“There’s one rumour that we supply the drugs for free. We don’t condone or support drug use. We are here to provide information, clean needles and other paraphernalia and to save lives when users overdose.”
The site is part of the province’s response to the opioid overdose emergency that has gripped B.C. in recent years, and is one of nine that has opened on the Island since December, 2016.
Island Health is reporting that since the site, which originally operated at 714 Canada Ave. until it moved to Trunk Road in April, 2018, first opened, more than 31,000 clients have visited, 250 overdoses have been reversed and zero deaths have occurred.
In December, due to increased and ongoing need, Island Health extended its lease on the OPS site in Duncan with the Cowichan Valley branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association until Nov. 30, 2019.
The site has 15 harm reduction workers employed, with four on during any one shift.
It has a waiting room and an injection room where up to 10 users can consume their drugs at a time.
Each injection stall includes clean needles, stem cups in which drugs can be “cooked”, rubber bands to tie off arms before injecting drugs, and cleaning alcohol.
Oxygen tanks are in all corners of the injection room and Redmond said the first response by the harm reduction workers to an overdose is to place an oxygen mask over the user’s mouth and nose.
“Keeping the air flowing into the lungs is very important,” he said.
“We generally use naloxone (a medication used to block the effects of opioids) during an overdose, and anyone who wants a naloxone kit from the OPS can have one.”
James Tousignant, executive director of the Cowichan Valley branch of the CMHA, said he’s pleased the OPS has, so far, prevented any overdose deaths among the thousands of users that have visited the site.
But he’s hesitant to call the site a success.
“It depends on how you define success,” Tousignant said.
“No one has died here and the facility is being used to capacity. But the point is we’re still here and the need for this site has not gotten any less.”
Tousignant said fitting into the neighbourhood has also presented challenges, but the workers at the OPS have been doing their best to keep the site as low impact for the neighbours as possible.
“We try our best to keep the site quiet, and we try to keep our clients moving and not hanging around when they are finished consuming their drugs and considered safe to leave,” he said.
“This was a quiet neighbourhood, but there’s a lot more activity during our operating hours now as a result of the OPS. Our clients are mostly polite and respectful, but it’s still a change for the neighbours and we’re learning as we go. I think the neighbours generally feel that the OPS has to go somewhere, but they wish it were somewhere else.”
The lease agreement for the OPS states that the CHMA is committed to a respectful, safe and secure operation of the OPS, and to fostering good neighbour relationships with those who live and work near the site.
This includes discouraging congregation in and around the site, and having staff security patrols during open hours and contracted security patrols when the OPS is closed.
Tousignant said the OPS is adhering to all these requirements and has the harm reduction workers walk around the area after each shift to ensure nobody is loitering around the site, picking up any discarded needles and garbage and talking to the neighbours to listen to their concerns.
“We understand that we have a presence in the neighbourhood and we’re always working to try and lessen it as much as possible,” he said.
“We’re not getting as many calls to complain as we used to.”