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Close existing drug consumption site now that new service has opened, say Nanaimo neighbours

NANDU's drug consumption site in Nanaimo. Photo: Nanaimo Area Network of Drug Users

The peer drug-consumption service on Nanaimo’s Nicol Street should be shut down now that a new professionally run ­inhalation service has opened near city hall, say neighbours.

Nanaimo does not need two consumption sites so close to each other in one area of town, said resident Ruth Taylor. “I think that is excessive.” The sites are about one kilometre apart.

The new service run by the Canadian Mental Health Association’s mid-Island branch is at 250 Albert St. less than a block southeast from Nanaimo city hall.

It opened last week. By late next year after renovations are completed on its building, it is slated to be a wellness and recovery centre offering a range of services including overdose prevention, treatment options, and primary health care to reduce the risk of toxic drug poisonings and to connect people to lifesaving supports.

It is funded by Island Health and the province.

The other consumption service, staffed by volunteers, opened in March with a one-year lease at 264 Nicol St., southeast of the newer facility.

It is run by the Nanaimo and Area Network of Drug Users (NANDU) which is receiving $80,000 in provincial funding plus some short-term funding which ended this month.

Similar to elsewhere in B.C., Nanaimo is faced with drug-addiction and mental-health challenges.

“It’s not that I lack compassion for the people that are suffering,” said Taylor, who lives near the NANDU site. But “the balance of evidence is showing that it is not being run professionally or safely,” she said.

NANDU’s operation needs to be declared a nuisance property immediately, she said. That is something the city of is looking into. “And it needs to be shut down. It is not in an appropriate location.”

She does not believe that peer-to-peer sites work. “It is too chaotic.”

Neighbours complain of feeling scared, of noise from fights, aggressive behaviour, harassment, drug paraphernalia, people passed out in vehicles and hanging out in nearby alleys and graffiti.

An alley by the site had to be blocked off on Tuesday after a vat of used cooking oil set up behind a local restaurant was tipped over, bringing in police and other officials, she said.

“It’s just that there is always something going on.”

Collen Middleton, of the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, said that no one wants to be accountable for what is going on at NANDU. “But at the same time, it is pretty obvious it is not a safe place.”

Some people appear to be sleeping at the NANDU property, he said. What happens at that site is akin to what you would expect to observe at a lawless drug house,” he said.

Jack Phillips, executive director of Victoria-based SOLID Outreach Society, defended services such as NANDU on Thursday saying that drug users feel more comfortable going to peer-to-peer consumption sites because they trust the people there.

SOLID does not administer NANDU, but as a registered society it is able to accept funds designated for NANDU and forward them. It too is a peer-based service, with current or former drug users, runs several consumption sites in Victoria and offers a range of services.

Peer services such as NANDU and SOLID work because “the users won’t listen to other people,” Phillips said. A person preparing to take drugs is more likely to give credibility to a peer who has drug experience. That could mean, for example, taking advice that it might be safer to reduce the amount of drug taken at one time, he said.

SOLID has been able to forge a good relationship with its Victoria neighbours, Phillips said, noting that NANDU is a fledgling organization with little funding.

Nanaimo RCMP have increased their presence around NANDU. Island Health said it is not responsible for the operation of the NANDU site, but added the organization “provides an important and life-saving service for residents of Nanaimo who use substances.”

Staff from Island Health are at NANDU weekly to see what resources are needed and what can be improved, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said in a statement.