The controversial overdose prevention site located at 715 Canada Ave. is moving.
Dr. Shannon Waters, a medical health officer with Island Health, said the site will move to a leased location at 221 Trunk Road, across from Duncan Mall, on April 7.
She said the location on Canada Avenue, which opened Sept. 12, is “greatly exceeding site capacity” and, in addition, the current lease on the property has expired.
Waters said when the site opened last fall, it was receiving between 20 and 30 visits a month, but that has increased to almost 50 visits each day.
“Most of our other overdose prevention sites have been set up in large centres, so we didn’t know how busy the sites would be in smaller locations like Port Alberni and Duncan when we set them up,” she said.
“We’ve had more than 30 overdoses at the Duncan site since it opened, but no deaths. In fact, we’ve had no overdose deaths at any of our sites to date.”
The overdose prevention site is intended to provide a place where people who use drugs can be safely monitored and treated immediately if they 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.
Between January, 2016, and June, 2017, there were 283 overdose deaths across the Island Health service region, including more than 25 in the Cowichan Valley.
The Duncan site is operated by the Cowichan Valley Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, with funding from Island Health.
But residents who live near the Canada Avenue site say the location had become a serious problem in their neighbourhood since it opened.
Sharon Jackson, a neighbour of the site on Canada Avenue and a Duncan city councillor, said she’s “thrilled” that the location is changing.
“I’m glad they finally listened, but the reality is that we have lost or are losing up to five businesses in that area as a result of the overdose prevention site,” she said.
“There’s been a lot of untruths from Island Health about the site, but partying around the location after hours with people in the back alleys and in Centennial Park shooting up has become a real concern. The quality of life for people in the neighbourhood has tanked.”
Jackson suggested that the site should move closer to the Warmland shelter on Lewis Street because that’s where most people with drug issues tend to congregate.
Waters said the site’s proponents have heard the concerns and have been trying hard to lessen the impacts of the site on the neighbourhood since it opened.
She said security services have been hired to patrol the site and the surrounding area from 8 p.m. to noon the next day, and that same security will be provided at the new Trunk Road location.
“We hope that will alleviate some of the concerns that may come up with the new location,” Waters said.
“The new site gives us a lot of much-needed additional floor space and, unlike the Canada Avenue location, it is a single building that doesn’t share walls which will help with our flow-through.”
As for a location closer to the Warmland shelter, Waters said several sites in the Valley were considered, but the search was limited by the lack of available property.
She said, even though the site is moving to Trunk Road for now, the search continues for an even more appropriate site.
The overdose prevention site was supposed to be temporary until the region and province managed to bring the opioid crisis to an end, but Waters said the province is still far from that goal.
“There is no evidence that anything is changing for the better anytime soon,” Waters said.
“Unfortunately, we are still seeing a much higher death rate now than we have in previous years.”
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent acknowledged that the opioid problem in the Valley is not getting any better, and health authorities have been mandated by the province to establish overdose prevention sites.
“There are challenges in dealing with this crisis and the health authorities have learned some lessons from the site on Canada Avenue,” he said.
“I understand they are still looking for a more longer-term site, and it’s possible that the model for these sites may change over time.”
Two drop-in information sessions are planned at the new site at 221 Trunk Rd. to allow for the public to tour the new location, meet front-line workers and ask questions.
The first will be held on April 5, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and the second will be on April 6, also from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.