The P.E.I. government has issued a request for proposals for the operation of an overdose prevention site in the Charlottetown area, an action Green MLAs say is long overdue.
Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker questioned the health minister during question period Wednesday, asking why the process has taken so long. The minister made a commitment to such a site in the winter of 2021, and the federal government gave approval to open one roughly a year ago.
"All this minister has been able to accomplish in the last year is to create a committee," Bevan-Baker said. "When will an overdose protection site be opening so that Islanders living on the streets and who may be suffering from addictions have a place to help keep them alive?"
"All jurisdictions have approval to move forward with urgent public health needs sites or overdose prevention sites," Health Minister Ernie Hudson replied. "We are moving ahead, and I think that the RFP [request for proposals] speaks volumes of our commitment for this."
Bevan-Baker disagreed. He said he's lost all confidence in the King government's approach to addressing mental health and addictions in the province, adding that an RFP isn't a barometer of how strong the government's commitment is.
"It's a whisper, if that," Bevan-Baker told CBC News. "This is something which should have been done long ago… The RFP is no indication or certainty that we're ever going to get this."
'Process that we have to go through'
According to the request for proposals, services at the site could include such things as supervised consumption, drug-checking and an ability to respond to any overdoses.
There's a staffing requirement of four people at any given time, three of whom must be present at the site. The service would be seven days a week with "consistent hours for weekdays and weekends," the request for proposals says.
Hudson told CBC News the delay is due to the many ongoing projects that his department is balancing, as well as its desire to make sure the province's harm reduction co-ordinator was hired first.
That position was filled in March of this year.
"There are steps that need to be taken… As much as any of us may like to think that it would take place with the snap of a finger, it does not," Hudson said.
"There's process that we have to go through and we are going through that process and doing that as rapidly as possible."
The exact location of the site in Charlottetown is unknown, but Hudson said it will open sometime in 2023.
As far as the community is concerned, I suspect they share my disappointment. — Peter Bevan-Baker
"This is one of the steps that we are taking. There's other initiatives with regard to mental health and addictions too," Hudson said. "This is not a standalone initiative; it's part of a whole package to provide those services to Islanders."
Bevan-Baker said he expected the overdose prevention site to be open by this point, saying Prince Edward Islanders have waited long enough for "critical" services such as this.
"As far as the community is concerned, I suspect they share my disappointment and frustration that this has taken so long," he said. "Why this province, and this government in particular, has taken so long to get to this point — which is not even the beginning — is really unforgivable."