Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Fraser Health looking to locate an Overdose Prevention Site in Langley

Yesterday afternoon, Fraser Health staff presented some sombre statistics to Langley City council on overdose deaths in BC and our community. Since 2015, the number of people dying due to the increased toxicity of illicit drugs has grown exponentially. In 2019, the number of people dying decreased for the first time. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic caused 2020 to see the highest number of deaths due to drug overdoses. Fraser Health staff stated an interruption of health services and change in the mix of illicit drugs available due to the pandemic caused an increase in deaths.

Around 1,700 people in BC died due to illicit drug overdoses in 2020. In Langley City and Township, 77 people died. As a comparison to-date, about 1,300 people died in BC due to COVID-19.

Overdose deaths in BC 1994 to 2020. Select image to enlarge.

Overdose deaths in Langley 2019 and 2020. Select image to enlarge.

In the Fraser Health region, around 70% of overdose deaths occur in private residences, 16% in other indoor locations such as restaurants, and 13% outside.

As a result, Fraser Health is looking to partner with a service provider to open an Overdose Prevention Site in Langley. Staff from Fraser Health stated that they wanted to place the site in a part of Langley with a high drug overdose death rate.

An Overdose Prevention Site and a Supervised Consumption Site provide the same services. The difference being that an Overdose Prevention Site is provincially regulated while a Supervised Consumption Site is federally regulated.

Overdose Prevention Site services include:

  • Distribution of supplies for safer injection
  • Education on safe injection technique and infection prevention
  • Overdose prevention and intervention
  • Medical and counselling services
  • Referrals to substance use treatment
  • Connection to housing and other support services
  • Drug-checking

Several council members expressed concern about placing an Overdose Prevention Site in Langley City, noting that it could cause a negative impact on the surrounding neighbourhood. Some members of council also asked Fraser Health if they would consider mobile overdose prevention services. Council asked many questions about Overdose Prevention Sites to Fraser Health staff, who agreed to get back to council with answers.

At the council meeting, I told a personal story about my father’s use of illicit drugs and later abuse of prescription medication. I stated that he got help at a methadone clinic which helped save him and our family.

I talked about my experience working at a TV station and software company located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I stated that I’d seen firsthand the positive impacts that a Supervised Consumption Site can have in a neighbourhood, such as reducing people using drugs around businesses.

I asked Fraser Health that if they placed an Overdose Prevention Site in Langley City, they do it in a way that uplifts its clients and surrounding neighbourhood. I also asked that they design the site so that someone like my dad would feel comfortable assessing it.

I know firsthand that there is a lot of shame around drug addiction. Many people don’t want to be seen going into a street-front Overdose Prevention Site. When my dad accessed methadone treatment, he did so at a second-floor clinic.

I told Fraser Health staff that Langley City’s draft Official Community Plan encourages active-uses for ground-floor commercial unit. Active-uses include retail shops, restaurants, and cafes. The Offical Community Plan encourages personal services and offices in second-floor or higher units.

I asked Fraser Health staff to work with the City if they decide to open an Overdose Prevention Site in our community. The design and location of an Overdose Prevention Site are essential. The right design and location will help reduce the fear of accessing it and provide a dignified experience for clients. It can uplift the surrounding neighbourhood and support the City’s goal of creating an active retail core with a good design and location.

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