Fundraiser underway to open overdose prevention site in Halifax
A grassroots movement comprised of healthcare professionals and harm reduction advocates has taken efforts to open Atlantic Canada’s first overdose prevention site into their own hands.
“These safe injection sites and overdose prevention sites now are no longer controversial in terms of a healthcare service. They’re really the standard of care when it comes to caring for this community that’s marginalized and excluded and at really high risk of death,” said Dr. Tommy Brothers, a Halifax-based physician.
Dr. Brothers is a member of the HaliFIX Overdose Prevention Society. The coalition has recently created a fundraising page with plans to apply to Health Canada for an exemption that would allow them to proceed with building a “barebones site.”
“We’d be looking at establishing either a tent or somewhere indoors with a hygienic environment with tables and chairs and naloxone and sterile injection equipment and just having a place where people could come in, not rush, use a safe dose and not worry about having to die,” Dr. Brothers said.
The plan wasn’t the group’s first choice but they say a lack of response from the province on whether or not they will be involved in the project has led them to this point.
“Our first goal was trying to work with the province to establish a site that we thought could best serve the community — like having health professionals present, having testing for blood-borne infections, having referrals to treatment, would be wonderful. We haven’t been able to do that,” Brothers said.
The province has made widespread investments in opioid treatment services and harm reduction services such as free naloxone kits.
“We’re one of the first jurisdictions to move forward with naloxone being available free throughout communities across our province to be able to respond to these emergencies. We’ve had over 100 reported instances where opioid overdoses have been reversed,” Health Minister Randy Delorey said.
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However, whether or not the province will be involved with an overdose prevention site remains to be seen.
“The department is working on evaluating the information around overdose prevention sites to bring that information in to help inform policy decisions that we would make as a government. So, that’s the stage that we’re at right now,” Delorey said.
The committee lobbying for an overdose prevention site says the minister received a comprehensive presentation for a site this February.
The presentation included widespread letters of support from community officials like Halifax Mayor Mike Savage.
In their eyes, waiting any longer puts too many lives at risk.
“There’s still people dying in this community. We have outbreaks of HIV and an epidemic of hepatitis C and so the community of people who use substances are saying that we need one of these sites and we keep hearing from the government that they’re not committing and so in that way I am disappointed,” Dr. Brothers said.
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