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Interior Health defends pausing Vernon overdose prevention site

Grieving mother makes renewed call for Vernon overdose prevention site
Six months after pressing pause on plans for a Vernon overdose prevention site, the health authority is defending its handling of the project.

It’s been more than six months since Interior Health pressed pause on plans for a public overdose prevention site in Vernon.

While the health authority says it’s still committed to the idea, it has no timeline on when the project might move ahead.

However, with a grieving mother renewing her public call for an overdose prevention site, the health authority is defending its handling of the project, arguing this lengthy planning period is necessary to make sure the project will be successful.

Mother Sandra Welton brought an urn with her daughter’s ashes to Vernon city council on Tuesday, as she made her case for an overdose prevention site.

Her 28-year-old daughter Meghan Parrotta suffered a fatal overdosed in Vernon in the spring.

READ MORE: Grieving parent advocates for Vernon supervised injection site

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“On May 30, she bought what she thought was cocaine. From what the coroner told me when they did the autopsy, there was not an ounce of cocaine in her system, it was all fentanyl and cold medicine. So needless to say my daughter didn’t stand a chance,” Welton said.

“I need to know what we are doing, where this overdose prevention site is. People are dying!”

Welton believes if an overdose prevention site had existed, her daughter might still be alive. She sees setting up an overdose prevention site as an urgent matter of life and death.

“We’ve taken way too much time reassessing it, reevaluating it,” Welton said.

“What is the hold up? Nobody can seem to say what the hold up is.”

READ MORE: ‘We’re criminalizing addicts’: Overdose prevention site advocates rally outside of N.S. legislature

Council made it clear it’s not the city’s project and Interior Health is responsible for the overdose prevention site

The health authority’s administrator of mental health and substance use in the North Okanagan Colleen McEwan said planning is ongoing and the health authority is taking its time with the project to get it right.

“Planning sometimes is slow and there is lots of steps and checks and balances in place to design the best program for our community,” McEwan said.

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“Sometimes it takes longer to plan something to be successful than to plan something quickly and then find out parts of that (aren’t) working.”

When Interior Health initially proposed the project, it sparked a lot of public discussion about where it should be located.

READ MORE: ‘It’s a job you take home’: Dealing with burnout in the advocacy community

While no space has yet been picked out for the overdose prevention site, concerns have been raised about whether it might attract problems to its neighbourhood.

McEwan is also pushing back against any suggestion that the health authority is dragging its feet when it comes to addressing the overdose crisis, pointing out that the overdose prevention site is not the only initiative they are pursuing.

“In the meantime, we have been increasing the amount of services we have available for people with addictions: we have increased naloxone kits, we’ve done harm reduction education, we are going out to employers and providing education,” said McEwan.

She said the health authority is also providing more Suboxone and Methadone clinics and has increased the number of day treatment opportunities available.

“We are working actively on all the parts of the program. The piece that’s still left is the overdose prevention site and because there has been a lot of questions and a lot of concerns about it we are being thoughtful in our planning,” McEwan said.

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