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Nova Scotia announces support for overdose prevention sites

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WATCH: Nova Scotia has announced half a million dollars in funding to support overdose prevention sites across the province. Alexa MacLean has more on what that means – Feb 5, 2021

Nova Scotia has announced half a million dollars in funding to support overdose prevention sites (OPSs) across the province.

This is the province’s first funding initiative for safe consumption sites — something that has previously fallen to non-profit organizations.

Grassroots community organizations have led initiatives to open two OPSs in the province, the first one being HaliFIX. It opened its doors in the summer of 2019, becoming the first harm reduction advocacy group in Atlantic Canada to open an OPS, and did so without government support.

ReFIX is currently operating in the Brunswick Street Mission facility with temporary funding from United Way Halifax. That funding is set to expire in April.

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Read more: Approval granted for new Halifax overdose prevention site to open

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In the summer of 2020, the provincial health minister said work was ongoing to determine if an overdose prevention site is a harm reduction investment that will meet the needs of Nova Scotians.

“There was a perception, I think, from some folks in government that these sites kind of came with trouble and opposition from the community,” said Tommy Brothers, a Halifax physician.

“So, maybe it was just time and them waiting to see that having an overdose prevention site in Halifax was a good thing.”

Nova Scotia announced Friday that $500,000 will be used to support OPSs in the province.

ReFIX will also receive one-time bridge funding for six months as a part of the new initiative.

Direction 180 program manager Paula Martin told Global News that in January 2021, ReFIX has had 226 contacts.

“On average, we are seeing nine contacts per day,” Martin said.

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The province is now expecting requests from Nova Scotia Health to propose the establishment of new sites in Halifax and Sydney.

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“Every overdose death is a tragedy and overcoming addiction can be very challenging,” Leo Glavine, minister of health and wellness, said in the release.

“This investment will provide a place for people to use substances in a way that is safer for them and the surrounding community.”

Prior to Friday’s announcement, harm reduction efforts under the province’s Opioid Use and Overdose Framework included the distribution of naloxone kits, and annual funding of $1.38 million for community-based harm reduction like needle distribution and disposal, education and peer outreach.

Paula Martin hopes this initiative will also help reduce stigma.

“People who use substances deserve appropriate, adequate, health-care services. Harm reduction is evidence-based, we know it reduces harm within the community.”

The new funding, to be used by Nova Scotia Health, comes from Gambling Awareness Nova Scotia.

Read more: Internal N.S. report describes rise in overdose deaths and community contaminants

Last month, Global News obtained a copy of Nova Scotia’s internal report that outlined an increase in overdose deaths between January and November 2020, compared to 2019.

“Preliminary data suggests an increase in drug toxicity deaths compared to last year (January to November period), however the number for the time period was not out of keeping with previous years and the situation will continue to be monitored for action,” Marla MacInnis, a media relations adviser with the Nova Scotia government, wrote in an email in January.

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The internal report is titled NS Drug Report – Drugs and Substances, and is published on a monthly basis by the health department.

Between January and November 2019, 86 people died from confirmed or probable acute drug toxicity deaths. While the data in the December 2020 report is still provisional because deaths are still being investigated, the forecasted number sits at 96 overdose deaths.

This report was not released to the public, although drug policy advocates have long argued that releasing information to communities, about what specific harms are showing up in their illicit drug supply, would help save lives.

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There are several different websites available to the public if they wish to further research drugs and substances in Nova Scotia.

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They are as follows:

— With files from Alexa MacLean.

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