Island Health and local officials plan to have a temporary overdose prevention site established in the Cowichan Valley by this summer.
Island Health has already helped set up six overdose prevention sites on the Island in a number of communities impacted by the ongoing overdose emergency that was declared by the province last spring, mostly related to the increased use of fentanyl across B.C.
Kate Marsh, a councillor with the Municipality of North Cowichan, is a spokeswoman for the local Sobering and Detox Task Force that is working with Island Health to establish the temporary site in the area.
She said the overdose prevention sites are similar to safe injection sites but, due to the extent of the ongoing overdose emergency in the province in which hundreds have died, they don’t require permission from Ottawa or even the municipalities they are set up in to operate.
Marsh said a number of locations for the overdose prevention site in the Valley are being considered, and Island Health will inform the public of its chosen location when it is finally chosen.
“We have a target to have the site in place by June or July,” Marsh told council members.
“The site will be staffed with professionals from Island Health and there will be no cost to municipalities. Dr. Paul Hasselback (medical health officer for central Vancouver Island) met with the City of Duncan on this issue earlier this week and now I’m meeting with you. This is an important step to reduce deaths.”
Hasselback reported to council last summer that there were up to four overdose cases a week at the Cowichan District Hospital, and the trend is for those numbers to increase.
Coun. Al Siebring, however, said he’s not in favour of having the site set up in the Valley.
He said the discarded needle problem in the area was only made worse when authorities decided to begin handing out free and clean needles in an effort to try and stem some of the health problems related to intravenous drug use.
“We’re being told that drug use in communities don’t increase with these types of sites, but drug use in Vancouver’s east side continues to grow even with a safe injection site there,” Siebring said.
“Our goal should be to solve the addiction problem, not to enable it. Even if we decide not to pass this motion (that council support the site in principle), the province said they would put them where they want anyway so this motion is redundant.”
Coun. Joyce Behnsen said having an overdose prevention site operated by professional health workers is better than just “having needles everywhere” in the community.
“If we want to help those with addictions, we need a safe site like this,” she said.
Coun. Tom Walker said he wants to hear what the public has to say on the issue.
“The location for the site has yet to be disclosed, and I think the public should be informed of that as soon as possible,” he said.
“Public consultation was mentioned here, but has not yet taken place. I will support this in principle right now, but I want to hear from the public.”