If Nanaimo is going to have supervised drug consumption, the city will have to change its bylaws.
Island Health won’t make another application for a supervised drug consumption site as long as current zoning requirements are in place, said the health authority’s chief medical officer for central Vancouver Island. Dr. Paul Hasselback spoke to city councillors Monday at a special committee of the whole meeting.
“How do we move forward bringing Nanaimo in line with what’s happening in other communities, where siting is an important component, but shouldn’t be necessarily a barrier to providing a necessary health service?…” Hasselback asked. “At least some of us in Nanaimo still think [supervised consumption] is a valuable additive to the suite of services that are needed in this particular community given the number of individuals who are currently consuming.”
The B.C. Coroner Service reported last month that 1,489 people died of drug overdoses provincewide in 2018; in Nanaimo, the number of overdose-related deaths fell from 51 in 2017 to 29 in 2018.
“There is an end to this in some fashion, we just don’t know how long it’s going to take to get there. But consumption will continue,” Hasselback said.
He suggested there are signs of progress in many areas of a multi-faceted approach to combatting the opioid crisis, such as increased availability of naloxone. But he said Island Health will not pursue supervised consumption while the City of Nanaimo requires site-specific zoning. An application for a supervised consumption site at 437 Wesley St. was defeated after a public hearing in 2017. There is an overdose prevention site at that location. According to a city staff report, a supervised consumption site allows agencies to engage in other health and social services, whereas an overdose prevention site’s mandate is limited to preventing and responding to overdoses.
“There’s no waiting areas for people that want to go in, use the facility and remain afterwards,” said Dave LaBerge, city manager of community safety. “So they come in and they kind of get shepherded back out on the streat. The hope or the expectation of an SCS is that there would be more space and supervision.”
A city staff report noted that “there are several ways to proceed on the matter of siting supervised consumption services” in Nanaimo and laid out two options. One is to continue to require site-specific zoning, which would always involve a public hearing; the second option would be to reclassify supervised consumption sites as health services rather than drug addiction treatment facilities. A supervised consumption site could then go anywhere a medical office is permitted, so long as it receives the necessary Controlled Substances Act exemption from the federal government. City social planner Karin Kronstal said there would still be a public engagement component.
“If council decided to make it where it was more flexible rather than site-specific, it might be that there’s more options open,” said Coun. Zeni Maartman, who asked when a potential location might be known.
Hasselback said no location has been identified for supervised consumption. He noted that 50 per cent of overdoses happen in and around the downtown, while the others are spread out and are “not going to be reached by a single site.” He added that it’s “just good governance” not to put a site where it would cause problems.
“We have not predetermined a particular site or a particular location or a particular model, because until a fundamental problem gets resolved, we consider that a sufficient barrier to not even have those conversations and the problem is a zoning bylaw,” the doctor said.
Councillors motioned only to receive the report for information.