Vancouver Coastal Health applies for 2 more supervised injection sites
Health authority says more supervised injection sites in DTES would save lives in midst of overdose crisis
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Vancouver Coastal Health has officially filed applications for two new supervised injection sites in Vancouver.
The health authority and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced Monday that the applications for the injection services, to be rolled into the existing services within the Downtown Eastside Mental Health and Substance Use Drop-In Centre (528 Powell St.) and the Heatley Integrated Health Centre (330 Heatley St.), have been completed after months of work and submitted to Health Canada for approval.
“We hope to work with [Health Canada] to get approval as quickly as possible,” said VCH chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly. “The signs from Health Canada are very positive so I hope it won’t take many, many months for approval to come through as it has for previous applications. In past years, even with the renewal of Insite, it would take almost a year to hear from Health Canada for approval. With the change in government last fall, we did have a much quicker approval of renewal last spring. We’ll see, but our goal is to open these sites as soon as we can in the new year.”
Unlike Insite, Daly said the two new proposed injection services are part of facilities that already provide a wide-range of harm reduction measures for its clients, such as needle exchanges.
They’d also operate on a much smaller scale than the stand-alone injection site, providing just four injection booths each.
The applications have been in the works since before April, when the province declared a public health emergency over the increasingly number of overdose deaths but Daly said “mean-spirited” legislation introduced by the previous Conservative government has meant applications can take more than a year to put together to fulfill all requirements.
Under Bill C2, the applications much contain details policies and procedures, site plans, letters of support from the community, police, health officials and multiple levels of government.
It also, unnecessarily, Daly says, requires health authorities to submit evidence of the benefit of injections services and evidence of the need, despite a Supreme Court of Canada ruling declaring them legitimate health services and over a decade worth of research out of Insite and the Dr. Peter Centre, VCH’s other current supervised injection site for clients of the HIV/AIDS treatment centre.
Robertson said the city has lobbied the federal government to repeal the bill.
At the very least, he hopes Health Canada shows urgency in reviewing the applications during an overdose crisis that has killed 555 people in B.C. so far this year (as of the end of September), 110 of those in Vancouver.
“We have over a dozen people dying each month of overdose deaths,” said the mayor. “Every month that we lose because of Bill C2 and an onerous process that’s totally unnecessary and overboard means we’re losing dozens of people in cities like Vancouver.”
Not everyone is pleased with Monday’s announcement.
In a statement, the Strathcona Business Improvement Association said the three public open houses as part of the consultation process were “poorly advertised” and offered “little opportunity for residents, business owners and employees to voice their concerns or provide input.”
An open letter from the SBIA’s executive director Joji Kimagai expressed concern about increasing homelessness and drug use in the DTES community and what impact more injection sites could have.
Such concerns are not based in fact, said Daly.
Research has shown that disorder and open drug use around Insite has actually decreased since it opened, and crime has not increased.
The client-only Dr. Peter Centre – the model proposed for the two new sites – is near a school, park and St. Paul’s Hospital but doesn’t generate any complaints from the neighourhood, she said.
“We know that there was actually an improvement in public disorder. Less discarded needles. Less open drug use,” said Daly. “And that makes sense because right now both of these locations where we plan to open services give out needles for exchange. If people can’t inject on site, they will take their needles and go inject on the street. So we believe supervised injection sites done in this manner can actually improve neighbourhoods and not make them unsafe for those other residents and businesses.”
VCH has previously announced it intends to apply for as many as five new supervised injection services within Vancouver, including one that’s women only.
Locations and partners for further applications are still being sought.