The Harbour Supervised Consumption Service has been in operation for just over one year (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

More than 200 lives saved in first year at Victoria’s supervised consumption site

Vancouver Island’s largest site celebrates first anniversary with a report of zero deaths

More than 200 lives have been saved since Vancouver Island’s largest supervised consumption site opened just over one year ago, but experts say more can be done.

The Harbour Supervised Consumption Services at 941 Pandora Ave. opened its doors on June 18, 2018. Since then there have been 61,988 visits to the site, 206 overdoses and zero deaths.

READ MORE: Vancouver Island’s largest supervised consumption site to opens

In addition to supervised consumption, The Harbour provides harm reduction services such as clean needles and fentanyl test strips, as well as referrals to peer support services, public health nursing, mental health and substance use supports and linkages and referrals to treatment. It is comprised of services from Island Health, BC Emergency Health Services, SOLID and the Lookout Housing and Health Society.

“One of the greatest successes is the synergism between the different groups that have come together to work in this area and successfully,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Officer for Island Health. “Look at more than 200 overdoses that were handled there.”

This synergy is something Stanwick said needs to be applied throughout the province.

“Treatment is more than just dealing with dependency,” he said. “How are you going to deal with issues around housing? How will you deal with employment? Part of this has got to be an entire bundle of services.”

ALSO READ: Pandora supervised consumption site has busy first month

The Harbour was an experimental model which launched in hopes of responding to the opioid crisis, which according to recent reports may finally be slowing down.

A B.C. Coroner’s Service Report released on July 11, 2019 reported that between May 2018 and May 2019 there has been a 28 per cent decline in overdose deaths.

“Certainly we can take some credit, but we don’t know all the factors going into that,” Stanwick said. “We’re still seeing people dying and sometimes it’s very discouraging because sometimes these are people who have been receiving services.”

ALSO READ: Overdose deaths down 30% so far in 2019, B.C. officials ‘cautiously optimistic

Earlier in the year, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry argued for illicit drugs to be decriminalized to help provide safer access to drugs, and to de-stigmatize addiction.

Stanwick agreed that decriminalization needed to be carefully considered to help reach more people, such of the majority of overdose victims who use alone at home.

He added that services at places like The Harbour would be greatly improved if people living with addictions had more trust in the health system.

“Some of these people have been the most stigmatized in our society. They’ve been treated badly, and have had a distrust of the health care system,” he said. “Part of entering treatment is you need some kind of level of trust and that’s the idea behind this, we are there for you, we are establishing these services.”

ALSO READ: Youngest opioid overdose victim in B.C. last year was 10 years old

Health professionals also need to follow trends in the drug world so they can supply the required resources. Recently, Stanwick said, more people are switching from intravenous drugs to inhaled drugs, something which The Harbour cannot currently accommodate.

The only supervised inhalation site in Greater Victoria is at Victoria’s Rock Bay Landing Overdose Prevention Unit, which is comprised of a makeshift outdoor tent.

The Harbour will also likely need to undergo some remodelling, after staff realized the lobby is not set up to accommodate two different streams of people: those who simply want to grab harm reduction supplies, and those who want to access the supervised consumption booths.

In the very least, however, the experimental Harbour was approved to stay on site for another three years.

“This is a first step in a long journey in terms of addressing substance use,” Stanwick said. “Just very baby steps.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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