The Port Alberni Shelter Society and Island Health have implemented an overdose prevention site in Port Alberni in response to Vancouver Island’s public health emergency over fentanyl.
The Port Alberni-based overdose prevention service began operating on May 1. The service is being operated by the Port Alberni Shelter Society with funding from Island Health. The Shelter Society has opened a new location at 3699 Third Avenue, where they will be offering the overdose prevention site services and harm reduction services. There is space available at the new location to include additional support services in the future.
Wes Hewitt, the Shelter Society director, said the non-profit and the health authority worked in combination to get the service up and running.
“[Island Health] has been opening sites and have opened sites across the island,” he said. “We have the same opiate issues here as across the Island. Our non-profit feels we should be doing things to deal with those.”
He said the solution is a two-fold one. It addresses social issues, as well as the cost to the taxpayers.
“By addressing these problems, hopefully we can reduce healthcare and policing costs,” he said.
The overdose prevention service provides a place where people who use illicit opioid drugs can be safely monitored and treated immediately if they overdose. Staff at the site are equipped with naloxone and are trained for overdose response.
The overdose prevention service is expected to be in operation as long as needed. The service will be available seven days a week, during regular business hours, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
“We want to make a change, to better the community,” said Hewitt. “We can’t stick our heads in the sand. The issue is there.”
The Shelter Society also runs the new Sobering Centre under a contractual agreement with Island Health.
The society is committed to providing a gateway to stable housing and supportive services in the community, he said.
“There’s a continuum in the community, and housing is a part of that continuum,” said Hewitt.
“At some point they want to make a change in their life, and move from low barrier housing.”
Overdose prevention services are part of a broad overdose response strategy that includes education, prevention, outreach, harm reduction, naloxone kits, counselling, substance use treatment and supports, and access to mental health services.
Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016, 155 people died from an illicit drug overdose in Island Health; 56 of these fatalities occurred in the Central Island region, and 24 people have died in the region in the first three months 2017, identifying the need to respond to the current health crisis with services for overdose prevention, and save lives, he added.