Victoria councillors are advocating for more supervised inhalation sites in an effort to increase harm reduction strategies within the opioid crisis.
In a motion forwarded to council this week, Coun. Marianne Alto, Coun. Sarah Potts, Coun. Jeremy Loveday and Coun. Ben Isitt, ask the Province, local health authorities, the Ministry of Health and Addictions and the Ministry of Health to provide more observed inhalation sites for people smoking illicit – and possibly tainted – drugs.
“There are many folks in our community who deal with addictions and drug use, and that takes many forms,” said Alto. “We’ve noticed that there’s a significant portion of people who smoke … It’s the second most common way they consume drugs.”
Vancouver Island’s largest supervised injection site, The Harbour, opened at 941 Pandora Ave. in June 2018, but the location does not offer safe inhalation services.
“When that opened up it worked really well … it did the job, which was to keep people from dying,” Alto said. “The same argument can be used for a supervised site for injection as for one for safe inhalation.”
Rock Bay Landing is the only location in Victoria with a safe inhalation tent, which was installed a year-and-a-half ago as part of its overdose prevention services.
“Anything you can smoke can potentially be laced,” said Joann Connolly, manager at Rock Bay Landing, “People were smoking around the building and not in a designated area, and in wet weather there was an increase of people trying to sneak smoking into the building.”
Connolly noted when people were scattered, it was hard for staff to keep track in case anyone overdosed.
The drug inhalation tent sits in the Rock Bay Landing courtyard, but its simple design has been very effective, Connolly said.
The white pop-up tent is the typical kind seen at any local event; it’s weighed down and has clear walls on three sides that allow staff to observe smokers from a distance.
Drugs, just like anything else, have trends and in the past three years smoking drugs has become a lot more popular.
“People believe injecting heroin puts you at greater risk, so smoking it has become more popular, though of course it can also be laced with fentanyl,” Connolly said. “Crystal meth has also become more popular.”
Since the tent was installed, Rock Bay Landing has seen significant success.
“It’s been excellent. The overdoses have gone down dramatically, and when they happen they’re typically in the courtyard,” Connolly said. “I think it’s a great service, it’s well-used and it saves lives, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The proposed motion is not specific to more tents or a different site. If passed on Thursday, the motion will be forwarded to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities in April, and the Union of B.C. Municipalities in September before the province can take any action.
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