January 4, 2019 6:17 pm

Halifax mother’s death prompts calls for an overdose prevention site

Friday, Jan. 4: Discussions around bringing an overdose prevention site to Halifax are renewed after the overdose death of a young mother.

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In the first week of 2019, a young mother lost her life to an overdose in Halifax.

The death of Terri-Lynn Burgess, 29, has renewed conversations around the possibility of opening an overdose prevention site (OPS) in the municipality.

Many harm reduction advocates feel an OPS is a crucial step in preventing future overdose deaths in the municipality.

“Now her daughters have to grow up without their mom. I had a friend die there a few months back and I think that by us opening this prevention site, it could have saved all their lives,” said Denise Lethbridge, a member of the Halifax Area Network of Drug Using People (HANDUP).

HANDUP is a non-profit organization that works to improve the lives of people who use drugs or are dealing with addiction by providing access to peer support and education.

READ MORE: 2,066 Canadians died of opioid overdoses in the first half of 2018

During their meeting, they discussed the death of Terri-Lynn and how they feel it sparks urgency for the need to bring an OPS to the municipality.

Volunteers scour the streets of Halifax daily picking up needles and other drug paraphernalia to help prevent the spread of diseases.

Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

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It’s a place where people can use drugs safely and be connected to other health care resources like treatment, housing, and community services.

“People are (using drugs) anyway, but they’re dying. So if they’re using safely, they’re not contracting diseases, they’re not spreading diseases. They have more likely of a chance to go into treatment,” said HANDUP member Julien Carette.

A female member of HANDUP also added that an OPS would decrease the risk of violence against women who are using in environments that leave them vulnerable.

“There’s some places that they’re using that is no place for a person to be. Like in alleyways and condemned buildings, just to try to keep warm, to come off the streets,” Lethbridge said.

WATCH: Nova Scotia may soon see the province’s first Overdose Prevention Site

Over 9,000 people have died in Canada due to opioid-related overdoses since January 2016, according to federal government statistics.

According to Health Canada, international evidence supports the role overdose prevention sites have in saving lives and improving health.

The Health Canada website also describes the sites as being “cost-effective” and not linked to an increase of drug use and crime in surrounding areas.

Discussions have been ongoing around bringing an OPS to Gottingen Street because other community-based harm reduction organizations already exist there.

Some people who have lived in the community for several decades believe other areas should be considered for the site besides Gottingen.

“I don’t have a problem with the concept, not at all. My issue is around location and why this community? You know the problem as described is a citywide problem, it’s not just in this neighbourhood. So if it’s a citywide problem, why aren’t the places to deal with this shared with the other parts of HRM?” said Irvine Carvery, the director of the Community YMCA on Gottingen Street.

Carvery says he’s concerned with how an OPS would impact the perception children have of their neighbourhood.

READ MORE: Surviving an overdose may depend where a person lives in Canada, advocate says

“Now, the Community Y services over 250 vulnerable youth every day. So I am concerned about the young people in this community and the image that that’s going to portray to them about their community, and what is the value of their community? If all of these unwanted services in every part of the city are placed in our community, where’s the value of our community?” Carvery asked.

Members of HANDUP say they want to work with the community, not against it.

“They’re afraid and I understand that if they have children. I have a son myself. I understand but we have Direction 180 here and we have Mainline across the street. So we’re here already, we’re here to help. If we have an OPS, there won’t be people doing drugs in alleys, there won’t be needles in alleys,” Carette said.

In an email statement from the provincial health department, spokesperson Tracy Barron said: “We are working with the community-based harm reduction organizations to determine appropriate models to support safer consumption in Nova Scotia.”

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