POWELL RIVER, B.C. — The small city of Powell River has been one of the hardest hit by British Columbia's overdose crisis, prompting Vancouver Coastal Health to open its first overdose prevention site outside of Vancouver on Thursday.
Authority medical health officer Dr. Geoff McKee says the contaminated drug supply has been devastating for Powell River and they've found many who die of overdoses in B.C. have hidden their drug use, only to die alone.
The new pilot site was supposed to open last month, but an authority spokeswoman says a break-in at the site delayed the launch while they installed fortified locks and a security system.
The authority says there were 39 overdose deaths last year for the North Shore-Coast Garibaldi area that includes Powell River and there were 76 emergency calls for overdoses during the same period in the city.
Shannon Ollson, with the Powell River Community Action Team, says the site is badly needed because there are overdoses in the laundromat, at the park and in the washrooms of convenience stores.
Vancouver Coastal is providing clinical support and supplies, while the Powell River Community Action Team will manage the site and the City of Powell River is leasing the property for free for one year.
Kathryn Colby, the co-ordinator for the action team, says stigma and shame cause people to use alone, putting them at extreme risk of fentanyl poisoning and overdose.
"Middle-aged men, many with young families, are incredibly vulnerable to accidental overdose death, leaving a social toll on the community which we have yet to fully realize. This overdose prevention site pilot is a community-created project, designed to address these preventable tragedies."
More than 1,500 people died from an illicit drug overdose last year in B.C. and 1,208 of them were male.
Vancouver has six overdose prevention sites.