Editorial: Supervised consumption site is a call to action

Opioid overdose deaths didn’t suddenly become a crisis, but maybe now the issue will be treated that way.

After 25 people in Nanaimo died from using fentanyl in 2016, the need for a supervised consumption site became overwhelming for some observers. An unsanctioned location, supported by one or more city councillors, popped up in the city hall parking lot after Christmas and hasn’t been shut down.

It’s got people talking about the issue of supervised consumption. Many argue that government and health officials shouldn’t be complicit in illegal drug use. And there could be costly liabilities. On the other hand, there are hard-to-calculate costs of doing nothing. A supervised consumption site isn’t meant to promote or even normalize drug use – it’s a harm-reduction measure. These sites help save a few lives, among the few per cent who choose to visit them, and lives are precious.

Supervised consumption sites can cause problems and may be viewed as an undesirable element in a community. But in a crisis, there aren’t always perfect solutions. We need a multi-faceted strategy and supervised consumption is one of a range of measures we need to take to try to reverse the statistics we’re seeing with fentanyl deaths.

We wouldn’t refer to the city hall tent as a safe consumption site, considering it’s manned by volunteers with varying degrees of medical training. It’s better than nothing, though, because at the very least it creates a ‘buddy system’ for drug use.

The tent is a symbol, too; it’s a call to action. At least one councillor decided the fentanyl crisis needed to be addressed immediately. City council, which had opportunity to be proactive, now has to be reactive, and will have to move to shut the site down or co-operate with Island Health on an alternative.

Our first responders arrive in time to save lives, usually. Sometimes they can’t. They’re doing everything they can in a crisis. Now we need to look at what else we can do.

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