City of Victoria to start supervised-injection site dialogue

As Island Health moves toward establishing a supervised-injection site for drug users, Victoria is being asked to confirm its support for the idea.

Catherine Mackay, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Island Health, has written Mayor Lisa Helps seeking confirmation that the city considers a supervised-consumption site a priority. The letter is expected to be discussed by councillors this week.

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Mackay writes that Island Health is in the early stages of planning for potential supervised consumption services on the South Island, including in Victoria.

Coun. Marianne Alto, a strong advocate of the idea, said she’d be surprised if council didn’t reaffirm its support. “Island Health is just confirming that we want to proceed with the conversation — which of course we do — and we’ve already started,” Alto said.

Mackay noted that Alto has been instrumental in bringing together police, service agencies, advocacy groups, medical health officers and Island Health to work on the file, adding “extensive and ongoing collaborative work” will be required in the next few months.

The city has long been working toward establishing supervised-injection sites in co-operation with Island Health, Victoria police and YES2SCS — a community coalition in support of the service — with a view to having something in place in 2017. Recently, the target date has been moved up to this year.

Pressure to have some sort of supervised-injection service increased with a rash of overdose deaths this year. “I think that it’s a fair response to try to do something, because of all the overdose deaths that occurred in January,” Alto said, adding that when the idea was talked about three or four years ago, the consensus was that the community wasn’t ready.

“It seems more likely now that they are. So part of the conversation is, is that true and what do we need to make it happen?”

There is no shortage of controversy surrounding supervised-injection sites. Critics say they facilitate the use of dangerous drugs and flout federal laws. Supporters say they reduce overdose deaths and help stem the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne viruses by providing clean supplies and a sterile environment.

In January, Victoria council agreed to write a letter to Health Minister Jane Philpott, asking what would be required for her to approve an application to create supervised consumption services in the city.

While the previous federal government was opposed to supervised-consumption sites, the new Liberal government is more open to the idea.

This year, the Dr. Peter Centre, an HIV/AIDS clinic in Vancouver, received permission to operate a supervised-injection site, becoming the second approved facility in Canada after Insite, a supervised-injection site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

In 14 years, more than 15,000 injections have been supervised at the Dr. Peter Centre. Insite, meanwhile, averages more than 500 injection-room visits a day. There have been no fatal overdoses at either facility.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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