Vancouver Island Health Authority has opened Cowichan’s overdose prevention site at 715 Canada Ave. (Google Maps)

Long-awaited overdose prevention site opens in Duncan

“This new overdose prevention site… will save the lives of Cowichan residents”

A long-promised overdose prevention site has opened in Duncan.

As part of the province’s response to the overdose emergency, Island Health has opened a temporary overdose prevention services site in Duncan at 715 Canada Ave. This is Island Health’s ninth overdose prevention site to open since December 2016.

“This new overdose prevention site is a critically important service that will save the lives of Cowichan residents who use illegal drugs, which are now widely contaminated,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy. “As we grapple with the overdose crisis, services like this that prevent immediate harms must go hand in hand with improvements to broader addiction treatment services, so that people struggling with addiction can ask once and get help fast.”

When Darcy talks about contaminated drugs, she means that a large number of illicit drugs now sold contain the highly addictive and dangerous drug fentanyl.

“With the number of overdose deaths in our Cowichan community increasing in recent years, we know that overdose prevention services are needed,” said Island Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Shannon Waters. “This is an emergency effort that will save lives.”

The Cowichan Valley-based overdose prevention service opened on Sept. 12 and is receiving clients. The service is operated by the Cowichan Valley Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association with funding from Island Health. The overdose prevention service will complement existing services already in the area of 715 Canada Ave., including a medical clinic, and health and harm reduction services available at the Margaret Moss Health unit.

The service will be available part of the day, seven days a week. The overdose prevention service provides a place where people who use drugs can be safely monitored and treated immediately if they overdose. Staff at the site will be equipped with naloxone and be appropriately trained for overdose response. This is an emergency strategy in locations where injections and overdose risk already exist. Since December 2016, there were 44,000 visits to overdose prevention sites in the Island Health region. In this time, there were 443 overdoses managed at the sites and no deaths.

Island Health has been working with community partners including Our Cowichan Communities Health Network, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Cowichan Tribes (via Ts’ewulhtun Health Centre), First Nations Health Authority, RCMP, Emergency Health Services (BC Ambulance), municipal and regional governments, and other community services agencies in establishing the overdose prevention site.

The City of Duncan has opposed the location of the site, saying it is too close to a residential neighbourhood. Their permission was not required for Island Health to open the site, and the City has said it will step up commissionaire patrols in the area to help manage the site.

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.

For more information on Island Health’s overdose response, visit the Overdose Prevention Hub online (http://www.viha.ca/mho/overdose.htm)

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