As of Thursday (June 8), Vancouver will officially no longer be the only city in British Columbia with a supervised-injection site for drug users.
That morning, a new facility called Safe Point is scheduled to open on the Surrey Strip, at 10681 135A Street.
A second injection site in Surrey, attached to the Quibble Creek Sobering and Assessment Centre at 13670 94A Avenue, has also received Health Canada approval to offer supervised-injection services, although users must be a member of the organization to use it.
Safe Point is low barrier, similar to Vancouver’s Insite facility that's operated on the 100 block of East Hastings Street since 2003. Both Insite and Safe Point services are immediately accessible to anyone who walks in off the street. A user must give a name upon entry but it does not have to be one’s real name. Intake staff also ask clients for the name of the substance or substances that they are using.
Safe Point is funded by Fraser Health and will be operated in a partnership with Lookout Emergency Aid Society.
In a telephone interview, Dr. Victoria Lee, chief medical health officer for Fraser Health Authority, said that Safe Point will open with health-care providers working there and offer connections to social services such as help with housing. There are also recovery services integrated into Safe Point where people who are ready to enter treatment can access methadone and Suboxone, both prescription drugs that suppress the mental and physical cravings that an addict feels for opioids.
Safe Point’s location at 10681 135A Street is barely more than a few metres from a new RCMP community policing station. That attracted some criticism last December wherein concerns were raised for what extent the presence of police officers might deter people carrying drugs from using the site.
Addressing those concerns, Lee noted that since January, an overdose-prevention site has operated on the Surrey Strip very close to where the injection facility will open. According to Lee, that location came to see about 500 visits each week, and that should serve as evidence that drug users are okay with the presence of the RCMP.
“We’ve done surveys as well as focus groups prior to opening, and specifically asked about people’s willingness to use services located at that site with RCMP services located nearby,” Lee said. “We didn’t see any concerns from people in the community or people that use substances on 135A Street.”
The application that Fraser Health submitted to Health Canada for approval to open Surrey’s two supervised-injection sites requested that they also allow people to swallow and snort drugs.
Those sections of Fraser Health’s applications remain under review. If approved, it would make Surrey’s supervised-injection sites—which would then be called consumption sites—the first government-sanctioned health-care facilities in North America to offer that kind of service.
In Vancouver, an overdose-prevention site at 62 East Hastings Street includes an outdoor area where people smoking drugs are observed for potential overdoses.
And overdose-prevention site is different from a supervised-injection facility in that the later includes complimentary health-care services while the former does not. Insite, for example, can connect users to drug counselling and has a detox centre, called Onsite, located on the building’s second floor.
According to the latest B.C. Coroners Service report, the province is on track to see a record number of overdose deaths this year.
During the first four months of 2017, there were 488 fatal overdoses across the province. That suggests B.C. will see more than 1,460 overdose deaths by the end of this year, up from 935 in 2016, 518 in 2015, and 368 the year before that.
That report notes that Surrey is second only to the City of Vancouver for overdose deaths.
During the first four months of 2017, there were 51 fatal overdoses in Surrey, compared to 113 during all of 2016 and 76 in 2015.
In a June 6 media release, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said she hopes the city’s new injection sites will help stem the tide of drug-overdose deaths.
“Supervised consumption services in Surrey will play an important role in preventing fatal overdoses from occurring, while supporting people who are ready to begin their road to recovery with connections to treatment services,” Hepner said.
On June 2, Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a media release where it's emphasized Vancouver is all but certain to see an increase in its annual number of fatal overdoses for the fifth year in a row.
"The near-record number of drug overdose deaths in the fentanyl crisis is a bloodbath in all corners of Vancouver with no end in sight," Robertson said quoted there.
The coroner’s report notes that no one has ever died at a supervised-injection facility in B.C. or at any of the provinces more than 15 overdose-prevention sites that opened last December.