Health Canada OKs consumption sites
Vancouver will get one new site, while Surrey gets two
Health Canada is allowing three additional supervised drug consumption sites to operate in the Lower Mainland — two in Surrey and one in Vancouver.
The move fulfils a promise from Jane Philpott, Canada’s federal health minister, to support and expedite applications to open more of the sites. At supervised drug consumption sites, nurses are present as people take illicit drugs and can assist in case of an overdose as well as connect people to other health or social services. Insite at 139 E. Hastings St., operated by Vancouver Coastal Health and the Portland Hotel Society, opened in 2003, while a supervised consumption site at Vancouver’s Dr. Peter Centre has operated since 2002.
Stephen Harper’s Conservative government attempted to shut InSite down, but a Supreme Court decision in 2011 ordered the government to exempt the clinic from prosecution for drug crimes. However, a strict Conservative-era federal law continued to make opening new sites extremely difficult.
On May 18, the federal government, now led by the Liberals, passed a bill that streamlines the process for opening a new supervised drug consumption site.
“International and Canadian evidence shows that, when properly established and maintained, supervised consumption sites save lives without increasing drug use or crime in the surrounding area,” Health Canada said in a statement.
“The evidence also shows that they decrease infections and the transmission of communicable disease, and can also decrease the use of emergency departments, as well as hospital admissions related to injection drug use.”
A deadly overdose crisis, fuelled by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, is currently killing four people every day in British Columbia. The death toll has also started to climb in other Canadian provinces. In response, in December 2016 several health authorities across B.C. started to open what they called overdose prevention sites, where volunteers or staff would be present to administer first aid in case of an overdose.
B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, said at the time he was confident the federal government would not object.
People gather outside North America’s first supervised injection site, Insite, located in the Downtown Eastside.