So is there actually a “good” spot for an overdose prevention site?
Island Health, which is responsible for the OPS that has been operating on Trunk Road in Duncan since last year, announced last week that it is looking for another location.
The site is part of the province’s response to the opioid overdose emergency that has gripped B.C. in recent years, and is one of nine that has opened on Vancouver Island since December, 2016.
In a press release, Island Health said it agrees with local leaders and community members that the site “does not meet community or client needs in the most effective way.”
The release said Island Health wants to find a location that “minimizes community impacts, while improving linkages to treatment and other supports.”
I think it’s wishful thinking that a spot could easily be found where clients of the OPS can be close to support systems, like doctors and social workers, while, at the same time, it is kept out of neighbourhoods where its clients and their behaviour have sometimes drawn the ire of those who live in the area.
Last January, I talked to a neighbour of the OPS site who was trying to organize the local residents to take action to protect their community. He told me that the neighbours of the site have experienced theft, trespass, overnight vagrancy, loitering, trash and needle littering and drug dealing, among other issues.
But, while there can be no doubt that some of the clients of the OPS can be disruptive, the site has seen thousands of people use its services and there has not been one case of an overdose death there since Island Health opened the OPS at its first location on Canada Avenue in 2017.
With reports of a staggering 32 overdose deaths in the Cowichan Valley just in 2018 alone, there’s no doubt that the site is serving a purpose in that it’s proven that the supervision of the injection of drugs by trained professionals that is offered there is saving lives.
James Tousignant, executive director of the Cowichan Valley branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, which has the contract to run the site, told me during an open house of the OPS last May that’s he’s pleased with the work the site is doing, but acknowledged it raised concerns in the neighbourhood.
“We try our best to keep the site quiet, and we try to keep our clients moving and not hanging around when they are finished consuming their drugs and considered safe to leave,” he told me at the time.
“This was a quiet neighbourhood, but there’s a lot more activity during our operating hours now as a result of the OPS. Our clients are mostly polite and respectful, but it’s still a change for the neighbours and we’re learning as we go. I think the neighbours generally feel that the OPS has to go somewhere, but they wish it were somewhere else.”
And that’s the dilemma Island Health is facing, and will continue to face, as it tries to find a new home for the site.
It seems an almost impossible task to find a location that everyone can agree on, and I don’t envy those that will have to take on the job.
I wish them good luck in their search.
Robert Barron writes for the Cowichan Valley Citizen