New inhalation overdose prevention site announced for Victoria

·2 min read
File photo: A person prepares to smoke fentanyl.  (Elizabeth Withey/CBC - image credit)
File photo: A person prepares to smoke fentanyl. (Elizabeth Withey/CBC - image credit)

A new inhalation overdose prevention service in Victoria is set to open in November on a temporary basis to help address the ongoing drug toxicity crisis.

Data from the B.C. Coroners Service shows that since 2017, smoking has become the most common mode of illicit drug consumption, surpassing injection use.

Grant McKenzie of the Our Place Society charity said some drugs have become so toxic that one or two narcan kits — what individuals normally carry — are not always enough to stop an overdose.

"I've heard of cases of people who have gotten 20 doses of [narcan]," he said.

Located at 926 Pandora Ave., the new site is across the street from Our Place Society and The Harbour supervised consumption service.

Officials say The Harbour does not have capacity to house the inhalation service or the needed venting upgrades.

According to McKenzie, people already use an area across the street from The Harbour as a de facto inhalation site.

"The people you see on this side of the road they're all inhaling drugs — they're smoking heroin or crystal meth or crack cocaine," he said.

"And the reason they're doing it here is because they're near our outreach workers so if anyone gets in crisis they know there are people — we have paramedics on site — that can save their lives."

Numbers released last month show the toxic drug crisis continues to claim lives in B.C. at a brutal rate, with Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria experiencing the highest number of fatal overdoses.

In July, 184 suspected overdose deaths were counted across the province, tying it for the second deadliest month ever. B.C. is now on pace to surpass 2,000 toxic drug deaths in 2021, more than last year's record high of 1,734.

"The toxic drug supply is continuing to cause fatal and non-fatal overdoses at a tragic, unacceptable rate across B.C. and here in Victoria," said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health's chief medical health officer.

The new supervised inhalation site is only temporary, say officials, because the property it is on is slated to be redeveloped by the City of Victoria at the end of 2022. A search for a permanent site is ongoing.

"We continue to add more witnessed inhalation sites because they save lives," said Sheila Malcolmson, the minister of mental health and addictions.

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