As the long-running unregulated drug crisis continues to disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples and communities in BC, a new mobile overdose prevention site east of Chilliwack hopes to curb some harm.
The Cheam Mobile Overdose Prevention Site (OPS), set up in partnership between Cheam (Xwchíyò:m) First Nation, First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), and Fraser Health, is BC’s first OPS in a First Nation community. It’s on the east side of Rosedale, close to Popkum and south of Agassiz.
“The heart-wrenching impact of the toxic drug crisis on our people, families, and communities requires a radical, multi-pronged response,” says Cheam Chief Andrew Victor in a release. “Cheam welcomes this mobile overdose prevention site to help protect our loved ones in higher-risk behaviour.”
The specially outfitted van is open daily from noon to 6pm. It’s currently parked at 52161 West Victor Drive—Cheam First Nation’s band office—though it’s intended to be a mobile unit that can also go out to serve surrounding communities.
It provides a safe place for individuals to use drugs, including an inhalation space in a tent outside, with specially trained outreach staff and peer workers on hand. Harm reduction supplies like take-home naloxone kits and fentanyl test strips are available. The staff and peer workers are there to help connect people to culturally appropriate care that combines culture, community, teaching, and land connection with conventional harm reduction.
Despite only comprising 3.3 per cent of BC’s population, First Nations people represented 16.4 per cent of unregulated drug deaths last year, according to data from FNHA. First Nations women are especially impacted, dying at a rate 11.2 times higher than other women.
“We must take action to reverse this trend,” says Richard Jock, CEO of FNHA, in a statement.
So far this year, 397 people have died from toxic drugs in the Fraser Health Authority, including 37 in nearby Chilliwack. However, Rosedale and the surrounding First Nation communities are more rural and spread out over large geographic areas, making harm reduction in other towns more difficult to access.
According to Fraser Health, there are two OPSs each in Abbotsford and Chilliwack, with the next closest safe inhalation site being on the south edge of Abbotsford.
This new OPS is set to serve First Nations, Métis, and all people living at Cheam, as well as those from nearby communities like Chilliwack, Agassiz, and Rosedale.
“We know Indigenous peoples are in the best position to determine the right supports and services for their community,” says Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, in a statement. “Indigenous people continue to be disproportionately affected by the toxic drug crisis and the new OPS will go a long way in saving lives in the community.”