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No supervised consumption site coming to Abbotsford

Feasibility study by Fraser Health found overdose prevention sites a better fit for Abbotsford
Shayne Williams is executive director of Lookout Emergency Aid Society, which runs the SafePoint supervised consumption site in Surrey and one of two overdose prevention sites in Abbotsford. Photo: Amy Reid Shayne Williams is executive director of Lookout Emergency Aid Society, which will run the SafePoint supervised consumption site on 135A Street. (Photo: Amy Reid)

Two years after Fraser Health made its first overdose prevention site designation in Abbotsford, the health authority says it’s not looking at a supervised consumption site in the city.

The Riverside Shelter, operated by the Lookout Society, was designated an overdose prevention site (OPS) in December 2016, and at that time, Fraser Health said it was conducting a feasibility study for a supervised consumption site (SCS) in the city.

Fraser Health spokesperson Jacqueline Blackwell said the study did not produce a specific report, but concluded that Abbotsford does not need an SCS. The main reason for that, Blackwell said, is the lack of a concentration of substance use.

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“Supervised consumption services are most appropriate when there’s a concentration of substance use in a particular area. Studies typically show that people will not travel significant distances to attend a supervised consumption site,” Blackwell said.

“They did the assessment and they determined that it wasn’t like there were hot spots. There weren’t pockets where there were specific areas and geographic concentrations of substance use.”

Blackwell also noted the continuing trend of fatal overdoses in B.C.: the majority of the deaths involve individuals who are hiding their substance use, a demographic that has proven challenging to reach and bring into harm reduction services such as an OPS or SCS.

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“We know that the vast majority of overdoses in our region, and including in Abbotsford, take place in private residences. So, as a result, it was determined that it was most appropriate to embed overdose prevention services in existing sites.”

As of today, there are two OPS locations in Abbotsford: the site at Riverside, which is specifically available for those who are sheltering at that location, and the Positive Living Fraser Valley Society on South Fraser Way.

Blackwell added that Fraser Health is “completely willing and happy” to work with organizations to provide more opportunities to provide harm reduction services.

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“There are lots of times where we’ll work with an organization to train their staff on how to use take-home naloxone, or distribute harm reduction supplies. And if they were to express an interest in opening an overdose prevention site, we could help them go through the steps to be trained and able to do that, too.”

The difference between overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites lies largely in how the services are provided.

The main function of an OPS is to “provide on-site monitoring for people at risk of overdose and allow for rapid response when an overdose occurs,” according to the Province of B.C. website.

At an SCS, staff supervise as clients use substances on site to monitor for overdoses. To operate an SCS, an exemption from federal drug laws is required, while an OPS does not require such an exemption.

Only nine SCS locations are approved throughout B.C., including three in Vancouver, two each in Victoria and Surrey and one each in Kelowna and Kamloops.

The latest numbers from the BC Coroners Service indicate Abbotsford has seen 37 fatal overdoses in the first 11 months of 2018. If that rate continued into December, the city will likely have seen 40 overdose deaths for the entire year, a 23 per cent drop from the previous year.

By contrast, the remainder of B.C. and Fraser Health are both on track for increases of one to three per cent.

Find more of our coverage on the overdose crisis here.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter
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