Surrey has revealed two locations where it wants to open supervised-injection services for drug users.
The plan is for one to be integrated into Surrey Memorial Hospital, at 94A Avenue. Another will open behind the Gateway Shelter, at 135A Street, along the so-called Surrey Strip, which has come to be compared to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
In a telephone interview, Dr. Victoria Lee, chief medical health officer for the Fraser Health Authority, said those locations were selected based on drug-overdose data and after consulting with communities.
“Harm reduction is sometimes a difficult area for people to support,” she told the Straight. “But supervised-consumption services have shown to reduce public disorder, reduce publicly discarded needles, and we also know that it reduces overdoses as well as communicable diseases. So we believe that with that kind of impact, we’ll be able to move forward in a positive fashion.”
Fraser Health plans to begin submitting applications for required exemptions from federal drug laws before the end of December and to conclude that process the following month.
Lee revealed that Fraser Health is also conducting “feasibility assessments” for supervised-injection facilities in Abbotsford, Maple Ridge, and Langley.
She emphasized that among cities where Fraser Health operates, these four jurisdictions have experienced the sharpest increases in drug-overdose deaths.
During the first 10 months of 2016, Surrey saw 76 fatal overdoses, compared to 75 for all of 2015 and 44 during 2014. For Abbotsford, those numbers are 28, 26, and seven; for Maple Ridge, they are 24, 28, and 14; and for Langley, they are 21, 10, and 10.
Despite Burnaby also ranking high on that list, Lee said Fraser Health is not presently considering a site for that city.
She noted that the injection sites planned for Surrey will differ from Vancouver’s sanctioned facility, Insite, in that they will not stand alone but be integrated into existing health-care facilities. She said this will allow Fraser Health to offer complementary services alongside harm-reduction programs, including opioid-substitution therapy, counselling services, and a range of treatment options.
Speaking in Vancouver on November 10, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced that the government plans to revise Bill C-2, the Respect for Communities Act. That legislation, written by the former Conservative administration, has been widely criticized for making it extremely difficult for cities to open facilities like Vancouver’s Insite.
“I’ve made it clear to my officials that I did not want there to be any unnecessary barriers to supervised-consumption sites in communities who ask for them,” Philpott said. “We had looked at the possibility of doing so within the current legislation, which was put in by the previous government. It is becoming increasingly apparent that it will require changes to that legislation. And we look forward to announcing very soon what those exact changes will be.”
The city of Vancouver has submitted applications to open two additional injection sites, at 330 Heatley Street and 528 Powell Street, and it has plans for at least one more at a location yet to be determined.
Other jurisdictions outside the Lower Mainland are moving ahead with similar programs.
On November 15, the city of Victoria said it wants to establish three supervised-injection sites, at 941 Pandora Avenue, 2920 Bridge Street, and 844 Johnson Street. In the province’s capital, overdose deaths have climbed from 20 in 2014 to 18 the following year up to 51 during the first 10 months of 2016.
And the Interior Health Authority has proposed an injection facility for Kelowna at 477 Leon Avenue, plus a mobile unit that would operate out of a van. That city has seen overdose deaths increase from 12 in 2014 to 20 20 in 2015 up to 37 during the first 10 months of this year.
The province declared a public-health emergency on April 15.