(Maryse Zeidler/CBC - image credit)
An overdose prevention site has opened in Squamish, B.C., with the goal of saving lives. It's the first site of its kind in the B.C. community.
Vancouver Coastal Health and Squamish Helping Hands opened the site in response to the increasing number of overdoses in the community.
"This new OPS will ensure people who are at risk of overdose in this community have access to low-barrier and lifesaving harm reduction services. Evidence tells us this model of care saves lives," said Dr. Patricia Daly, VCH's chief medical health officer.
In the North Shore-Coast Garibaldi area, which includes Squamish, there were 46 deaths in 2020, according to the BC Coroners Service, compared to 26 in all of 2019.
A total of 1,716 overdose deaths were recorded in the province in 2020.
The new site opened to the public Feb. 22 at the former Helping Hands shelter on Third Avenue.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials warn many people at risk of overdose may choose to use drugs alone in private residences, increasing their risk of death.
VCH says it will provide education, clinical support, and harm reduction supplies, while Helping Hands will manage the day-to-day operations of the OPS.
Maureen Mackell, the executive director of Squamish Helping Hands Society, says even recreational users' lives are at risk because the drug supply is profoundly toxic.
"It is vital that people do not feel afraid to access harm reduction services in their community. This includes simply having their drugs checked for dangerous toxic additives to using in a supervised environment," said Mackell.
"There is no other solution to the housing crisis but housing. Likewise, there is no other solution to the overdose crisis than safe use."
Jenna Becker, the co-ordinator of the Sea to Sky Community Action Team (CAT), believes those struggling should have local access to supports. The Sea to Sky CAT was a partner in the project.
"It's about linking people with resources, and supporting people to not use alone," said Becker. "Death is so final, and we have lost far too many people to the overdose crisis."
The service is funded by VCH as well as the Sea to Sky Community Action Team, which includes members from municipal governments, Squamish Nation, first responders, front-line community agencies, experts and residents and families with lived experience.