The only overdose prevention site (OPS) in Atlantic Canada is up and running in Halifax.
ReFIX is operating on a charitable donation from the United Way Halifax.
The site is located in the basement of the Brunswick Street Mission after being granted approval to open as an Urgent Public Health Need Site by the federal government.
“We’re fully trained in overdose prevention methods, with naloxone but also with CPR and first aid,” said Patrick Maubert, one of the site leads at ReFIX and a former substance user.
Maubert says the harm reduction community has helped him find meaning and purpose in his life. He’s in the process of becoming a social worker and says community-based programs like ReFIX are an integral part of helping people access life-saving health-care services.
“We’ve definitely seen a lower rate of overdose fatalities, as well as contraction of blood-borne infections like HIV and Hepatitis C,” Maubert said. “What I see a lot of are the implementations of peer programs and I guess the richness of life that is giving to folks to wake up in the morning, to come and do a job, to feel pride about the job, to feel part of a community.”
ReFIX follows in the footsteps of the now-closed HaliFIX Overdose Prevention Society, the first overdose prevention site to operate out of Atlantic Canada.
The new OPS location offers people who use drugs a safer alternative than using alone or in public spaces where they may not have access to emergency support, if required.
“It’s a good idea, I think, because then people aren’t going to be using outside and if they do (use) too much, then they’re safe — they have someone to look out for them and bring them back to life,” said John Wilson said, a Halifax man who has witnessed several people overdose in public spaces.
Maubert says although there has been an average of 50 to 60 opioid-related overdoses in Nova Scotia for several years, the overdose crisis is a growing issue across Canada that warrants investment and support.
“Unfortunately, the overdose crisis here in Canada is growing. In fact, we’ve lost more lives to overdose than to COVID, for example, right now,” he said.
“So, instead of continuing with the model that only stigmatizes folks who are substance users, we’re offering places for not only health services and safe using, but also places to connect, and to build community.”
Many of the ReFIX staff members have lived experience with substance use and can relate to the struggles that come with it.
“I struggled with addiction pretty much since I was 15,” staff member Kerry-Anne Zwicker said. “I was an LPN (licensed practical nurse). I ended up losing my nursing career because of my addiction and most of my family as well. So it’s important to me to be able to work with other struggling addicts. It’s honestly a daily reminder of where I could end up back.”
Maubert says the location of the new site “makes sense” given its close proximity to Halifax homeless shelters and other harm reduction services.
Previously, Halifax Regional Police were supportive of the HaliFIX OPS location and a media relations officer says that support continues with the new site.
“Halifax Regional Police recognizes that harm reduction strategies can play an important role in supporting those with addictions while also considering measures to ensure related quality of life and safety issues. We would be pleased to continue to work with the proponents to support the initiative the best we can,” Const. Dylan Jackman, the acting public information officer with HRP, wrote in an email.