Two Surrey drug injection sites became the first of its kind to get approval from Health Canada to allow users to snort illicit substances or take them orally under medical supervision.
It’s a move, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall says, that will save more lives.
“The ability to supervise the consumption of substances, whether by injection, oral, or intra-nasal methods, means more overdoses will be reversed and more lives will be saved,” Kendall said in a press release.
“In addition, staff at both sites will have greater opportunities to engage with people and connect them to treatment services when they are willing to access them.”
Since opening on June 8, SafePoint, which has two locations in Surrey and is B.C.’s first supervised safe-injection site outside of Vancouver, has had 1,079 visits by 203 people with an average of 5.3 visits per person. According to Fraser Health, 19 overdoses have been reversed with zero deaths.
“This latest exemption from Health Canada means we will be more inclusive and provide care to more people,” Fraser Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Victoria Lee said in a statement.
“While our primary concern is reversing overdoses and saving lives, we also know that supervised consumption sites can be a gateway to treatment and other necessary social and health care services for some of our most vulnerable people.”
Lee also said the change takes into account the way people actually consume drugs since the coroner’s data shows people that have died from overdoses from 2011 to 2016, about 33 percent of them use substances orally, and 23-percent of them use substances intra-nasally.
SafePoint comes 14 years after the groundbreaking start of Insite, the safe injection site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which was launched to prevent the spread of HIV.
In May, British Columbia’s coroners’ service said there were 136 suspected overdose deaths in the province in April. That amounts to almost double the number of deaths compared with the same month last year.
The data brings the total number of overdose deaths in B.C. to 488 in the first four months of 2017. Men account for over 80 per cent of the deaths so far this year, and more than half the deaths involved people aged 30 to 49.
Vancouver has the highest number of fatalities this year, with 144 overdoses, followed by 51 in Surrey and 37 in Victoria.
Overdose deaths have been largely attributed to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which was connected to nearly 45 per cent of drug deaths between 2015 and 2016.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said at the time it’s concerning that more than half of the deaths occur in private residences and many drug users are still not taking advantage of safe consumption sites.
Lapointe pointed out in June that the province “must not be afraid to stop doing what’s not working” in dealing with the opioid crisis. She said she’s encouraging the provincial government to prescribe opioids for users.
“We had hoped that last year we saw the sharp increase in overdose deaths and we had hoped that that was as high as we’d see.”
She says prescribing opioids to users can be effective but the stigma around the idea is leading to people dying in their homes.
~ with files from Canadian Press, Estefania Duran and Jeremy Lye