The City of Dawson Creek says it would like to see better consultation on overdose prevention sites in the community.
Mayor and councillors expressed their frustrations on July 18, meeting with delegates from both Northern Health and the Society for Narcotic and Opioid Wellness (SNOW), a lived-experience peer support group. Council said Northern Health surprised them with the opening of an overdose prevention site included in the Nawican Friendship Society’s Shelter after being told it wasn’t happening.
Councillor Jerimy Earl said he feels the city has been accommodating and proactive in working with groups that advocate for harm reduction services, but was deeply disappointed by the lack of communication.
“It’s very hard to feel that our efforts have been reciprocated given how the last few months have gone around sites opening without proper consultation," he said. "Northern Health has a budget of about a billion dollars, and you’ve got 7,000 people working for you – and the fact that no one could pick up the phone and tell us these sites were opened."
Northern Health Chief Medical Officer Jong Kim and Director of Specialized Services Donna Ward apologized to council for the lack of communication. Kim said the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the overdose crisis, pushing them to move forward with the site that was previously off the table.
“We’re at the point where we have the highest number of overdose deaths right now in B.C., as well as Northern B.C. Right now, every day more than six people die from the illicit drug toxicity deaths. Among the health authorities, Northern Health has the highest burden in terms of the rates,” he said.
Ward said the site isn’t solely intended for overdose prevention and will offer wrap-around services, employing nurses, life-skills workers, and social workers in addition to offering harm reduction supplies, supervised injection, drug testing, and treatment referrals.
“We’ve learned that addiction is not just a choice, it is a disease, and we have to meet people where they’re at – where they’re at in their life, where they’re at in their addiction continuum,” she said.
Overdose prevention services are being ramped up provincially and across Canada, added Ward, noting it’s only one part of the substance use continuum they work in. Earl agreed that Ward’s description of wrap-around services sounds great – but said he’s yet to see it materialize in the Peace.
“It’s very frustrating that we find ourselves today having this conversation after sites have been opened without this discussion happening,” said Earl.
Mayor Dale Bumstead said it’s a matter of property and personal safety, noting council was elected to represent quality of life in Dawson Creek.
“I don’t think any of us discount the fact that this is a serious issue that we’re dealing with, opioid deaths that we’re seeing in our community, our region, our province and our country,” he said. “And the piece I think to me that I want to emphasize is where is the best location for an OPS service? It can’t be parochially at your own viewpoint.”
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News Local Journalism Initiative.
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Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alaska Highway News