Victoria city councillors call on B.C. to provide safe-inhalation sites for drugs

Victoria councillors are calling on the province to provide supervised drug inhalation facilities.

Only Coun. Geoff Young opposed the motion brought forward by Coun. Sarah Potts.

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“The goal of this resolution is to support a continuum of harm-reduction services already being provided by the province in relation to new understandings of what is needed to save lives in B.C.,” Potts said.

“It calls on the province to provide safe inhalation sites to communities in crisis across B.C.”

The resolution will also be forwarded to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and to the Union of B.C. Municipalities for support.

Since January 2017, more than 2,400 British Columbians have died as a result of overdoses, Potts said. “While this is often connected to intravenous drug use, overdoses can happen with any mode of consumption,” Potts said, noting that smoking or inhalation is the most common mode of consumption among men and younger users between the ages of 15 and 29.

B.C.’s provincial health officer in 2016 declared the rise in drug overdose deaths a public health emergency.

The province has responded to the overdose deaths with supervised injection sites.

Potts said such harm-reduction measures do more than create spaces for people to use drugs more safely.

“They play a vital role as a part of a larger public health approach to drug policy so that access to services like counselling, health care and treatment, and ultimately creating conditions and communities that can support people to break ties with their addictions,” she said.

“The question really is not whether these sites are effective, it’s why haven’t they expanded their reach.”

Young said while some argue safe consumption sites are successful because no one has died using drugs in one, that is not necessarily as good definition of success.

“In fact, it would be equally valid to argue they have not been successful because the number of deaths remains high and is even increasing,” Young said. “The question we wrestle with is whether the sites are increasing the population at risk.”

Provincial funding for treatment options has lagged far behind “the emergency response component,” he said.

“We as a city and the residents of the downtown have been bearing a lot of the burden,” Young said, adding such consumption sites are part of a system.

“And that system includes the users. It includes the people they get their supplies from — the drug dealers. And it includes the victims from whom they obtain the funds to purchase the drugs and that also is very apparent to people who live or operate businesses near where this system operates.”

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said the lack of a safe inhalation site represents a gap in services. She said many of the people now congregating near the Our Place street drop-in on Pandora Avenue are people looking to smoke drugs who can’t go into the adjacent safe injection site to do it.

“So for their health and safety reasons they stay right outside,” she said.

The Rock Bay Landing shelter has a tent set up for supervised inhalation of illicit drugs. It was erected a year and a half ago to complement overdose-prevention services.

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