An advocacy group for drug users on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside say that expanding the hours at Insite, the city's supervised drug consumption site, for three days a month is an inadequate response to the ongoing overdose crisis.
"It's spitting in the ocean but at least they're doing something," said Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users co-founder Ann Livingston.
"It's a very, very, humble, tiny thing but it's good, and I'm glad they're doing it."
Vancouver Coastal Health is launching a six-month pilot project that will see Insite operate round-the-clock on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday during weeks when social assistance cheques are issued.
Right now, it is open each day from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. PT.
Public health emergency
There have been 433 overdose deaths in B.C. so far in 2016, which is nearly a 75 per cent increase over this time last year according to the B.C. Coroners Service.
The health authority says it monitored overdose rates on a week-by-week basis from January to May.
It noted an 80 per cent increase in opioid-related overdoses during weeks when welfare cheques were distributed.
"We're seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people overdosing at Insite as well as overdose visits to emergency departments during welfare-cheque week," said Dr. Ron Joe, the health authority's associate medical director of substance abuse services.
The Association of People on Methadone says that increase illustrates why Insite should never close.
"We're happy that Insite is increasing its hours, but we know that they need to be 24 hours all the time, and there needs to be more sites," said association president, Laura Shaver.
"The deaths are still there, and it feels like if by the end of the year 800 people have died from overdoses, that's not okay."
Joe says he wants to see how the six month trial goes before any decisions are made regarding turning Insite into a 24-hour facility.
"This is a pilot project, so what we'll do is we'll look at the number of people who come with the additional opening hours, and we can then gauge the number of reductions in emergency room visits and overdose deaths," Joe said.
He says if the data supports permanently expanding the hours, VCH will consider it.