Located in a parking lot next to Nanaimo’s city hall sits a large white tent. A small fire burns inside the tent, keeping volunteers, who are surrounded by donations of medical supplies and food, nice and warm. It’s a place where individuals can come and safely inject drugs, without the fear of being humiliated or shamed. It also happens to be unsanctioned.Established by Nanaimo city councillor Gord Fuller and a group of concerned residents, the tent has been acting as a safe-injection – or safe-consumption site, as its organizers call it – since Boxing Day. “Too many people are dying. There are just too many people dying,” Fuller said. “Four years ago if you had asked me about a safe-injection site, I would not have advocated for it. But with fentanyl and now carfentanil in the works, things are just getting worse and worse.” The injection site operates from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. There roughly 20 volunteers in total who work in shifts of two to three. A handful of volunteers have first-aid training, according to Fuller, who said they want to always have one volunteer trained to administer naloxone on location at all times.”We want to have it staffed with two to three volunteers, with at least one having the naloxone kit training,” he said. “As it goes along, everybody will get the naloxone training.” On-site volunteers provide users with clean needles and ensure old needles are properly disposed.”We’ve got lots of syringes and cookers and tourniquets,” said Jeremy Kalicum, co-ordinator of the unsanctioned site. Kalicum said seven people have come through the site since it opened on Monday morning.
“We’re not just taking care of users, we’re taking care of the community as well,” he said.
Kalicum, along with a handful of other residents, decided to set up the safe-injection site in an effort to benefit drug users and force the city’s hand on the issue of safe-injection sites.
“We as a group were upset with the inaction that has been taken by the city,” he said. “We wanted to really be the ones to take action and spur the city [into action].”
Many areas across the province continue to see an annual increase of illicit drug overdose deaths. According to recently released statistics from the B.C. Coroners Service, there were 25 illicit drug overdose deaths by the end of November in Nanaimo. There were 19 in the city last year. “It is important to have the resources out there for the community to safely consume drugs, especially with the fentanyl crisis going on,” Kalicum said. “We don’t want people overdosing behind a dumpster.”The injection site relies on donations in order to operate and Fuller has pledged $1,000 of his own money. Fuller said safe injection sites have been on the city’s agenda, but that some kind of action needed to be taken before another person dies.”As city councillor this has been on our agenda for awhile and we were to be talking about it at our last council meeting and it got put over to a committee and then the more and more you hear about [illicit overdose deaths] the more you realize something needs to be done and we throw too much to committee,” he said.Vancouver Island Health Authority did not directly comment about the unsanctioned safe injection site. However, Kellie Hudson, media relations officer with VIHA, said in an e-mailed statement that her organization plans to have a safe injection site up and running in Nanaimo early next year.
“Island Health is working closely with the City of Nanaimo, law enforcement and community partners to establish an Overdose Prevention Site in Nanaimo, expected to be up and running within the first week of January,” she said.
Cpl. John Stuart of the Nanaimo RCMP told the News Bulletin the unsanctioned injection site situation is complex. He said the RCMP is supportive of an extensive approach to dealing with the drug abuse issue.
“The RCMP is supportive of a comprehensive response to illicit drug abuse and recognizes that this is an evolving issue in Canada,” he said.As the site is unsanctioned by the city and located in city hall’s parking lot, Fuller said the site location could move from its current location to another spot downtown.