Victoria seeking guidance on supervised injection site

The City of Victoria will ask the federal health minister for direction in its application to establish public health facilities where people would use their own drugs under medical supervision.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Marianne Alto are bringing a resolution before the committee of the whole this week, seeking approval 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.

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The issue has taken on a high profile in the wake of eight fatal overdoses in the Greater Victoria area in December.

The city wants a supervised consumption service to include a range of health services.

“Obviously, it’s going to take time,” Alto said. “But in the interim, how do you provide that supervised consumption service in a way that is effective but doesn’t cost so much money and can be integrated with existing services?”

Victoria council has reached out to Island Health, Victoria police and the community coalition YES2SCS. Alto said the groups are all on the same page.

“The Conservative government did not want to entertain this conversation at all,” she said. “The Liberal government has indicated it is interested in doing things differently.”

In late January, Philpott toured Insite, a supervised injection site that opened in 2003 on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and spoke favourably about supervised consumption services as a health treatment. She has also approved an application for a second supervised consumption site in Vancouver.

“In light of that, it seemed timely to write to her and say ‘Hey, we’re ready to go here in Victoria,’ ” Alto said, adding the response will give the city and Island Health a road map for proceeding.

Island Health supports supervised consumption as part of a range of prevention, treatment and harm-reduction services and supports for people with addiction issues. Like the city, it sees supervised consumption as part of a range of services that support harm-reduction.

“We now are seeing signals from the new federal government that the legislation will change, and we look forward to the opportunity for further discussion, and to working with governments at all levels, as well as other stakeholders,” says a statement from Island Health.

Alex Holtom, a steering committee member of YES2SCS, took part in a rally Thursday in downtown Victoria to demand a supervised consumption site in the city.

The “phenomenal crowd” included between 150 and 180 people, Holtom said.

“It was a mixture, not just front-line workers, but also concerned community members and people with lived experience of using drugs.”

Holtom said the coalition, which includes health-care professionals, researchers, community activists, social workers, and individuals, will continue its work on the federal exemption process.

“We’re also simultaneously planning for the services to be operational in 2016,” she said.

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