A P.E.I. woman recovering from a drug addiction hopes neighbours of a new overdose prevention site in Charlottetown will accept it in their community.
Andrea Donaldson, who is eight years sober after battling a 20-year addiction, says the site will encourage people to seek recovery.
"A lot of people think that safe consumption sites, overdose prevention sites, are enabling addicts, but they're not, they're actually saving them from being alone and overdosing," she said.
"I hope the community as a whole accepts this because I mean addiction, it's not a crime. It's a sickness, it's a disease. What they do is the crime, but … addiction is not a crime."
After months of searching for a suitable location, the province has selected a government-owned building at 33 Belmont St., just a few blocks from an emergency homeless shelter. It is expected to open in the spring.
The province said it will be a place where people 18 and older can use drugs in a safe, supervised environment. Donaldson compares the building to a bar or licensed restaurant, which she calls "safe consumption sites for alcohol use." They're just using a different drug.
HIV self-test kits and Naloxone will be available on site, and access to safe disposal will help prevent dirty needles from ending up in public places, said Shawn Martin, P.E.I.'s harm reduction co-ordinator.
"I think it's really important that we share and just that we communicate really clearly with folks that overdose prevention sites have been studied a heck of a lot and we're talking about real services and what we find time and time again is that an overdose prevention site does not negatively impact public safety."
According to Martin, the overdose prevention site will operate like this:
A person will register at the front desk, by providing minimal personal information to respect privacy.
The site does not provide drugs, but can test the client's pre-obtained drugs for unwanted substances such as fentanyl.
Human connection is very important, especially during active addiction because you feel alone, you feel isolated and you have nobody to talk to. — Andrea Donaldson
The person then goes into one of the "consumption booths," where they can safely consume the drugs under the supervision of trained staff.
"In the event that someone were to experience an overdose or an adverse event, staff will be there to respond," Martin said.
Afterward, they will go to a post-consumption area where they will be supervised for a period of time, and have the opportunity to speak with staff about other services such as mental health and addiction treatment services.
Chris Clay, who works for the Native Council of P.E.I. and helps people who are living on the streets, said the demand for an overdose prevention is evident.
"Recently we've seen a rash of overdoses and our teams have given out Naloxone kits hand over fist so if we have a clean injection site like this, then we have a proper place where people can go and get the help that they need.'
Donaldson, who has overdosed three times herself, said drug users "deserve some kind of human compassion," which she hopes the new site will provide.
"Human connection is very important, especially during active addiction because you feel alone, you feel isolated and you have nobody to talk to, so hopefully this too will build maybe a friendship between people and just keep moving forward. Hopefully a lot of these people will find recovery and have a happy, healthy life."