The opioid crisis made itself felt in the Cowichan Valley in a number of ways in 2018.
In Duncan, the city’s overdose prevention site reported thousands of visits with no deaths since it began operations in 2017.
Island Health opened the site on Canada Avenue in September of that year before moving it to a larger building on Trunk Road last spring mainly to keep up with the growing demand for its services.
Last month, Island Health extended its lease with the Cowichan Valley branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association to operate the site for another year.
The CMHA has been providing the service since the facility first began in Duncan.
The overdose prevention site is intended to provide a place where people who use drugs can do so while being 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.
Since the Duncan site first opened, more than 18,000 clients have visited and zero deaths have occurred in that time.
According to the statistics, 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.
But the site has provoked controversy since plans for it were first unveiled.
Residents who live near the site when it was located on Canada Avenue feared it was going to negatively impact their neighbourhood when preparations to open were being made.
Many worried for the safety of their families, crime, rampant drug use and loss of property values if the site was opened, and claimed Island Health had not properly consulted with them before moving ahead with their plans.
But when the province declared an overdose emergency in 2016, it allowed health authorities special powers to try and deal with the seemingly intractable issue, including establishing the sites where it deemed them necessary, regardless of concerns that may be raised by local communities.
However, many of the neighbours complained about partying around the Canada Avenue 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. This was a factor in the decision to move the site to the more commercial neighbourhood on Trunk Road.
Island Health spokeswoman Lisa Murphy told the Citizen when the lease was renewed for the Trunk Road location that while the overdose prevention site was supposed to be temporary, there is still no end in sight for the ongoing opioid crisis.
“Our goal is focused on treating people who come to the site and avoid deaths, and also to link them to treatment to help them recover,” Murphy said at the time.
“It’s a positive that the number of deaths as a result of overdoses have gone down considerably thanks to these sites.”
Murphy acknowledged that there are still some community concerns with the new site, including people congregating there and litter issues, but the site workers have been working diligently with its security and other partners to deal with them effectively.
“The site is still fairly new and we try to address concerns when we receive them,” she said.