Interior Health is eying up both a spot on Leon Avenue as well as a mobile unit, for potential safe injection sites, and that has some of the community concerned.
The Downtown Kelowna Association, which is a not-for-profit Business Improvement Area association, is coming out in opposition of the proposed Leon Avenue location that was revealed Thursday.
“The DKA is opposed to a supervised consumption site being located on Leon, at the proposed 477 Leon location or anywhere else in that area,” Dan Allen, president of the DKA board said.
“It has been the DKA’s number one priority for years to make that area safer for our members and the public, and to revitalize that area for development. The DKA is seriously concerned that a supervised consumption site at that location will undermine public safety in the Leon area and will present a roadblock to revitalization.”
This isn’t an unexpected response.
Dr. Silvina Mema, a medical health officer with IHA, told the Kelowna Capital News in August, that overall community blowback and safe injection facilities go hand in hand.
“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.”
While the facility would simply be a safe space to inject drugs, Mema said, 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.”
The health authority has been working to figure out what kind of service would best suit the needs of this city since incidents of drug overdose deaths across B.C. recently rose sharply and a state of emergency was called.
In August Mema said that the death toll was prompting them to get a variety of injection services up-and-running soon, noting that Kelowna at that time had already had 20 overdose deaths and could expect to see 40 by the end of 2016 — doubling the number of drug-fatalities from the previous year.
She may have underestimated. Earlier this month the Coroners Service said there had been 37 fatal overdoses to date, with 20 linked to fentanyl.
“These are preventable deaths,” Mema said, adding that a safe injection site, if implemented with other measures, could go a long way in lowering that number.
Since then, health officials have met with local government, RCMP, community agencies, people who use drugs, and business associations to obtain their opinions about supervised consumption in principle.
With that input taken into account, they’ve found potential locations — one being mobile the other at 477 Leon Ave. — and service models, that could help facilitate the service.
“The proposed locations and service models were selected based on a combination of operational considerations, feedback received to date from stakeholders, data on where injection drug use occurs, and proximity to facilities where harm reduction and/or treatment services are already being provided to the target population,” reads the release.
“The proposed mobile units would allow the service to be provided through outreach to more than one area of the city.”
No decisions have been made yet. This next phase of engagement involves consulting with stakeholders about the proposed locations, including people who use drugs, community partners, and the public.
Residents of Kamloops and Kelowna can provide feedback on supervised consumption services and the proposed locations by visiting the Interior Health Supervised Consumption webpage and submitting their opinions through the online feedback form by Dec. 15.
Following the consultation phase a decision will be made on whether to apply to Health Canada for an exemption to operate supervised consumption services and, if so, where. The decision will be based on the comments, a review of overdose data and operational considerations.
For more information, visit www.interiorhealth.ca.