Nanaimo has to seriously look at some form of safe consumption site, says Coun. Jim Kipp, chairman of the public safety committee, who call it “absolutely important.”
Nanaimo has seen 20 fentanyl-related overdose deaths between January and September, the B.C. Coroners Service reports, and Island Health expects 400 to 500 people will visit the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital emergency department for non-fatal overdoses this year.
The B.C. Ministry of Health has asked health authorities to assess the need for safe consumption, and last Tuesday, the same day Island Health announced it was seeking public feedback on a safe consumption services in Victoria, Dr. Paul Hasselback, Island Health’s medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, said the conversation needs to happen here.
Hasselback also said the public safety committee has been approached and recommendations were presented requesting some support from council for supervised consumption and perhaps take a leadership role in consultation with the community. City staff members aim to provide a synopsis to the committee of services and supports for users of injectable drugs and how a supervised consumption site would fit. To date, no place in Nanaimo is zoned for the use.
Kipp said he’s in favour of the continuum of services for the chronically addicted who are not very well connected to the health-care system. If people are going to a safe place to inject, he said, that gives the medical staff the ability to help or the responders who are going a safer place to attend to, instead of going into some “crack shack filled with needles.”
“I believe that the community has to start talking about it,” he said. “What the city’s role of course would be [is] zoning and facilitating the sort of street supervision with bylaw and RCMP and those types of things.”
Coun. Ian Thorpe, public safety committee member, said the reality is the fentanyl problem is an epidemic and lives are being lost.
“We need to look at ways of preventing loss of life and trying to deal with this as best we can,” he said. “If safe injection sites are a method of doing that, I think we need to have a look at the idea.”
B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said it’s a community-by-community discussion.
“It may not make sense to have a safe consumption site in all health authorities, but that’s why we’ve asked all health authorities to look at the need and do an assessment,” he said.
Lake was in Ottawa on Thursday and met with Health Minister Jane Philpott and Ralph Goodale, minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, and there was discussion about Bill C-2, which Lake said is a barrier to safe consumption sites.
“They are hinting that there will be changes, so I think we will see the path a bit easier for communities where safe consumption sites make sense,” he said.