As communities around British Columbia continue to see startling numbers of opioid overdoses, Abbotsford council will discuss ongoing harm-reduction policies in the city this fall, Mayor Henry Braun said.
But while the mayors of two Interior cities have come out in support of supervised injection sites in their communities, Braun said he doesn’t want to weigh in on such facilities in Abbotsford before council analyzes the issue.
The mayors of both Kelowna and Kamloops said this week that they would welcome a supervised sites in their respective cities as their regional health authority considers setting up such a facility.
Fraser Health is also exploring potential sites for possible supervised drug-use facilities, but haven’t approached any municipalities.
Braun – who voted in favour of a 2014 resolution that removed a citywide prohibition on harm-reduction services – said council won’t weigh in on such a facility unless asked by Fraser Health. In such a case, he said he would have a variety of questions.
He acknowledged that studies show that the sites do save lives, but said other services are also badly needed.
“Safe injection sites keep people alive, but what happens after that? Is that the end?” Braun asked. “We have to ask, ‘What is the next step?’ ”
Last month, Jesse Wegenast, who co-ordinates harm-reduction services for The 5 and 2 Ministries, told The News there is a large need for such a facility in Abbotsford.
Through the first six months of 2016, 16 people died in Abbotsford from opioid overdoses. That puts 2016 on track to top the grisly death count from 2015, when 24 people died from overdoses.
By comparison, 19 and 22 people have suffered fatal overdoses in Kelowna and Kamloops, respectively.
Meanwhile, an event is planned at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium on Aug. 31 in recognition of Overdose Awareness Day.
Health professionals, first responders and other community members will hear from several speakers, including Fraser Health medical officer Dr. Andrew Larder, mental health clinical specialist Mark Goheen, and infectious disease specialist Dr. John Farley.
The event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-746-3301.
Meanwhile, Fraser Health is embarking on a social media and poster campaign to persuade drug users to take more precautions.
“It is important to note that these individuals include not only people who use drugs regularly but also those who use drugs on a recreational basis,” said chief medical health officer Dr. Victoria Lee.
“In addition, people report taking a variety of drugs including, but not limited to, heroin, crack cocaine, cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy and GHB. At this time, we are warning people that all drugs may be contaminated with lethal substances.”
She said up to 70 per cent of overdose deaths in the region are related to fentanyl, but “we are seeing very diverse substances” in overdose patients who arrive at local hospitals.
More information can be found online at fraserhealth.ca/overdose.
Fraser Health’s advice to people who use drugs, and to their friends and families:
– If you are using drugs, do testers and go slow.
– If you are using drugs, have a buddy you can trust with you who is sober, able to recognize the signs of an overdose, and willing to call for medical help if you need it.
– If you are using drugs alone, tell someone before you use, leave the door unlocked and have someone check on you.
– If you are using drugs, it is strongly advised not to mix multiple substances, including alcohol. Mixing opioids with downers or opioids with uppers puts you at higher risk of overdose.
– with files from Jeff Nagel