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Approval granted for new Halifax overdose prevention site to open

The Public Health Agency of Canada approved an expemption for a new Halifax overdose prevention site to open Aug. 17.
The Public Health Agency of Canada approved an expemption for a new Halifax overdose prevention site to open Aug. 17. Alexa MacLean

A new overdose prevention site (OPS) will be opening on Monday, Aug. 17, on Brunswick Street in Halifax.

The announcement came on Thursday, less than two months after the closure of HaliFIX, Atlantic Canada’s first supervised consumption site.

“We’re really excited about the location because it’s a known hot spot for open substance use,” says Cindy MacIsaac with Direction 180, a non-profit opioid treatment program.

“It’ll be really accessible to people, provide them with… a safe and hygienic alternative and respectful environment to use their substances.”

Read more: New location proposed for overdose prevention site in Halifax

The HailFIX Overdose Prevention Society opened its doors in the summer of 2019, becoming the first harm reduction advocacy group in Atlantic Canada to open an OPS.

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Their goal was to provide a safe space where trained staff can prevent fatal overdoses and provide people who use substances with access to other health resources.

The HaliFIX site officially closed in June, after the group’s relationship with a sponsoring organization ended.

Soon after the closure was announced, an application for a new urgent public health need site was put into the hands of Health Canada, MacIsaac told Global News.

The funding for a new site comes from a charitable donation by United Way Halifax.

Click to play video 'Application submitted for new overdose prevention site in Halifax' Application submitted for new overdose prevention site in Halifax
Application submitted for new overdose prevention site in Halifax

The site will be operating through a peer-led model. This means people who have experience using substances will be meaningfully employed at the site.

“They’re the experts as it relates to using substances,” MacIsaac says.

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“These employees can assist people in accessing services at the site, as well as offer support in finding other services where needed.”

The new site comes with a new name, ReFIX. The site will be located in the lower level of the Brunswick Street Mission.

MacIsaac hopes changing the location will also help mend the relationship with the African Nova Scotian community and improve access to harm reduction services.

“You know, the first site was certainly a triumph; it was the first in Atlantic Canada,” she says.

The previous OPS, HaliFIX, was located beside the New Horizons Baptist Church, a historically significant church and community hub for African Nova Scotians.

“It’s a home of baptisms, of funerals, of weddings, of this community, forever. So, for us, it’s a sacred site,” resident Irvine Carvery told Global News.

Read more: ‘More communication’ — Halifax’s African Nova Scotian community responds to overdose prevention site

MacIsaac said she has apologized to community members for not listening to their concerns earlier on.

“We didn’t get it right entirely, and I think this is an opportunity to address the concerns of the African Nova Scotian community,” she said.

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She says finding a better location was a result of listening to their concerns.

MacIsaac says the new site is a collaboration between the Brunswick Street Mission, Direction 180, Main Line and the Mi’Kmaw Native Friendship Centre.

She praises the harm reduction and community supports the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre advocates for on a daily basis.

“If it wasn’t for the Friendship Centre, these programs wouldn’t have come into existence. So, we’re forever grateful for their support,” MacIsaac says.

She hopes the new location will bring greater overall support for the site.

The space will be larger and have longer working hours, MacIsaac says.

She hopes the new location will generate greater support for the lifesaving harm reduction service.

Click to play video 'Nova Scotia government still not committing to supporting an overdose prevention site' Nova Scotia government still not committing to supporting an overdose prevention site
Nova Scotia government still not committing to supporting an overdose prevention site

MacIsaac also says organizers are planning to have COVID-19 safety measures in place as they prepare for opening.

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She says there will be a reduced number of booths, people at the site, and some screening introduced.

There will also be educational support provided about COVID-19 and safety as it relates to safe drug-consuming practices.

The Nova Scotia government has still not committed to investing in safe consumption sites, but MacIsaac says the province is currently exploring what the needs are in Colchester County and Cape Breton.

MacIsaac says her organization would be happy to support the needs of opening another OPS, especially in Cape Breton, where rates of overdose are high.

With files from Alexa MacLean.

More to come…