Robert Barron column: Overdose prevention site provides challenges

It’s a conundrum and, unfortunately, it’s one that is not going away anytime soon.

I was shocked when an official from Island Health told me that the number of visits at Duncan’s overdose prevention site had jumped from less than 30 a month when it began to almost 50 a day.

It appears the opioid crisis that has gripped the province is not getting any better; only worse.

The province declared an overdose emergency in 2016, which allows health authorities special powers to try and deal with the seemingly intractable issue.

Those special powers include establishing overdose prevention sites where it deemed them necessary, regardless of concerns that may be raised by local communities.

That’s because between January, 2016, and June, 2017, there were 283 overdose deaths just across the Island Health service region alone, including more than 25 in the Cowichan Valley.

More recent statistics are not currently available, but if almost 50 people a day are shooting up in the supervised overdose prevention site in Duncan, one has to wonder how many drug users are ingesting their toxic concoctions all over the Valley every day in unsupervised settings, and how many of them are overdosing?

Judging from the fact that the Warmland Sharps Pick-Up Team, a dedicated bunch of volunteers who don’t get the appreciation they deserve, has picked up more than 12,000 discarded needles in the area since the creation of the team in July gives an indication as to how serious this issue is in the Valley.

To keep up with the ever-growing crisis, Island Health announced last week that that overdose prevention site in Duncan, which has been located at 715 Canada Ave. since September, is moving to 221 Trunk Rd. on April 7.

That’s apparently because it’s a larger site that will allow organizers more ability to deal with more drug users to ensure they don’t overdose.

It’s also hoped that by positioning the site in a less residential area, the issues and concerns that had been raised during its short tenure on Canada Avenue can be avoided.

Neighbours of that site have long complained about partying around the location after hours with people in the back alleys and in Centennial Park shooting up and making them feel unsafe in the middle of their own community.

These are valid concerns and many people who work and live along Trunk Road where the new site is located have already been raising their own concerns even before it begins operations.

Island Health, which funds the site that is operated by the Cowichan Valley branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said that an even better location for the site is still being sought, but its options are limited by availability.

I can’t help but sympathize with the neighbours of these sites.

Not only do they feel that their personal safety and that of their families is at risk, there is the possibility that their properties could lose value as a result of being close to such an operation.

But we’re also in the middle of a medical emergency that has taken the lives of hundreds of people across B.C.

Most of the drug users are also people’s sons and daughters, brothers and sisters and friends and many feel society has a responsibility to look after them the best we can, and offer any supports available to help them break their addictions and begin living healthy and fulfilling lives again.

It’s a conundrum and, unfortunately, it’s one that is not going away anytime soon.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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