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Overdose-prevention rooms open: ‘Everyone was OK’

Health-care workers were present to witness several people consuming drugs at a new overdose-prevention facility on its first day of operation on Thursday.
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Overdose prevention room at 844 Johnson St. in Victoria.

Health-care workers were present to witness several people consuming drugs at a new overdose-prevention facility on its first day of operation on Thursday.

The observers are on hand at the Johnson Street Community residence as part of a push to reduce the number of overdoses in the province. There were 622 overdose deaths in B.C. in the first 10 months of this year, including 120 on Vancouver Island.

“Everyone was OK today,” said Andy Bond, director of housing for PHS Community Services, which manages the building. “The very first person to use the site was a resident who had previously [overdosed] a couple of months ago in their room.”

Staff are prepared to administer naloxone, an opiate antidote, if necessary. They are also there to provide education on how to prevent overdoses.

Another 40 or 50 people toured the two rooms at 844 Johnson St. to get acquainted with the facility, Bond said.

“It went well, overall,” Bond said. “A lot of residents were coming down, checking out the space.”

The overdose-prevention rooms serve the building’s residents, formerly homeless people who were camping at the tent city outside the Victoria courthouse.

The intent is to create a culture in which people want to use the rooms, Bond said. Danger of death from overdose rises when people consume drugs alone, without anyone to help them.

Staff were at the rooms from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Those hours are expected to continue for now as workers monitor the facility’s use and figure out the best times to be available, he said.

Island Health is applying to establish three supervised consumption sites in Victoria. The sites need approval from Health Canada.

Meanwhile, the province has enacted a ministerial order supporting the creation of temporary sites. In addition to the rooms at the Johnson Street building, temporary sites are planned for Our Place, at 919 Pandora Ave., and near the Rock Bay Landing shelter.

As well, a new overdose prevention team started working in Victoria on Wednesday, Bond said. The three-member group is made up of PHS, AIDS Vancouver Island, and the Society of Living Illicit Drug Users.

This venture, funded by Island Health, is working in buildings where there have been a lot of overdose deaths, he said.

It offers intensive training with drugs users and staff and operators in other housing facilities.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com