Small scale, safe injection site may be in Kelowna’s near future

“This is new. It’s an innovation for Kelowna, if we go ahead and do it here..."

Kelowna could soon have a safe injection site, as Interior Health is pushing forward  a multi-tiered plan to combat the mounting number of drug related overdoses.

“We are as we speak conducting a survey with people who use drugs so they can provide input on the idea of a safe injection service,” said Dr. Silvina Mema, Medical Health Officer with IHA, noting that the survey will identify the appetite for such a facility and best locations.

The health authority also had a cursory meeting with Kelowna city council on Monday to inform them of where they’re at in the process.

Although the plan is still in the consultation phase, there’s an impetus to get something up-and-running sooner than later, said Mema, noting that Kelowna could see 40 drug related deaths by the end of 2016, doubling the amount of drug-fatalities from the previous year.

“These are preventable deaths,” she said, adding that a safe injection site, if implemented with other measures, could go a long way in lowering that number.

Making it easier to move into action is that the site, once built, will be on a much smaller scale than InSite—the Vancouver safe injection facility.

“It would basically be a stainless steel counter with three or four chairs and one or two nurses there to supervise in case a user needs health care,” said Mema.

“It would probably be in a facility where clean needles and things of that kind are already provided.

“This is new. It’s an innovation for Kelowna, if we go ahead and do it here. What is holding us back is planning and also the community… we need to engage with the community to move this forward.”

In order to open a facility of this kind, the health authority needs to ask for permission from Health Canada to be exempted from Section 56 under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act.

Their application has to include the community perspective, which includes a summary of what neighbours think about the idea.

“We are currently looking for viable sites and then when we know that then we can ask the neighbours,” she said.

Although the facility will likely be placed in a commercial neighbourhood, the health authority is prepared for community opposition.

“This is not a straightforward service,” Mema said.

“These are controversial services because it addresses the needs of people who are marginalized and people who are doing something illegal, and there’s a stigma around that.

“People think these individuals shouldn’t be entitled to health services like others who don’t engage in illegal activity.”

And, while the facility would simply be a safe space to inject drugs, it would also provide a bridge for people who use drugs to enter into the health system.

“Maybe, eventually, someone would be ready to engage in services like detox and that will put them out of the misery of their addiction,” said Mema.

“They don’t have to look for help, but when they are ready they know it is there if they need it and that’s an advantage because these are people that wouldn’t get it otherwise.”

Mayor Colin Basran has expressed support for a safe injection site, but said the city has little to do with any operation. It’s driven by the province and IHA.