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New overdose prevention service in Nanaimo will accommodate inhalation and injection

CMHA Mid Island moving its harm-reduction service from Wesley Street to Albert Street
Jason Harrison, executive director of CMHA Mid Island, discusses short- and long-term visions for a new overdose prevention site on Albert Street. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Overdose prevention services are on the move in Nanaimo.

The Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mid Island branch is relocating its overdose prevention site this weekend from Wesley Street to its new premises on the corner of Albert and Dunsmuir streets. The new, larger location will have space for supervised drug inhalation as well as injection, and Island Health will be moving outreach services into the building.

Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions, said people need more supervised consumption services and more wrap-around care, and said the service expansion in Nanaimo will “really build that continuum of care so people can stay alive in the toxic drug emergency and get connected to health-care treatment … a better life, and recover from addiction.”

In recent years, drug use has increasingly transitioned to inhalation rather than injection and the majority of overdose deaths in B.C. now come following drug inhalation. Inhalation isn’t a more lethal method, said Malcolmson, but rather “the drugs are increasingly toxic.”

CMHA Mid Island’s Wesley Street supervised consumption site wasn’t able to accommodate inhalation, and this year the Nanaimo and Area Network of Drug Users has been busy offering its peer-run service out of a tent on Nicol Street. NANDU reported to city council last month that more than 200 people per day are using the service.

“My personal hope is that as this centre becomes established and that inhalation and supervised consumption are offered, is that the people that right now have had to rely on NANDU, that they start to gravitate towards this site,” Malcolmson said. “That’s on all of us to create the connections and the relationships here.”

Jason Harrison, executive director of CMHA Mid Island, said his association is “in the relationship business,” connects with people across the spectrum and has encountered the majority of the drug users who use the NANDU service.

“We’re going to encourage them to come and use this space over here. Ultimately it’s people’s choice, but we’re hoping that we’re going to provide the service that they need and this will be the place that they use.”

The new Albert Street overdose prevention site will be open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week. Starting Monday, Dec. 5, there will be only inhalation and injection space, but the intention is to continue to fill up the two-storey building. Related services will include drug testing, primary care outreach, substance-use outreach and medication-assisted treatment.

“There’s gaps throughout the continuum, all along … We’re just working with what we know we have and we’re always advocating to fill those other gaps,” Harrison said.

Malcolmson pointed to some of the addictions treatment services her ministry has been funding and some of the programs it has announced, but acknowledged that the death rate remains “tragically high” and a diversity of options is needed.

“There’s still more demand than we’ve been able to meet and so we continue to ask our health-care system and continue to ask front-line workers to do more to save lives in the public health emergency,” she said.

READ ALSO: 179 people died from B.C.’s poisoned drug supply in October

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A new overdose prevention site on Albert Street will offer supervised consumption of drug inhalation and injection. (News Bulletin photo)

About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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