A Kelowna safe injection site should be up and running by April, although what it will look like remains to be seen.
Interior Health proposed two potential options last week — a fixed injection site at 477 Leon Ave. as well as a mobile site — and now they’re embarking on the final community engagement process.
The final phase of the application will be submitted to Health Canada once that’s over, said Dr. Trevor Corneil, chief medical health officer with Interior Health, adding that the federal minister of health has offered every indication they want to move swiftly.
It means safe injection services will be made available nearly a year from when opioid overdose deaths rose so high in number that it prompted a state of emergency.
To date, there have been more than 200 overdose deaths provincewide.
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“When you say it’s a health emergency, 12 months is a long time to come up with something, but we will take a service that will make an impact whenever we can,” Corneil said.
Twelve months is also somewhat remarkable when you consider the history of safe injection sites in Canada.
It took five years to get Health Canada to approve Insite, which in 2003 opened in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to help address an epidemic of HIV and hepatitis C.
The previous federal government spent years trying to shutter the facility, though the Supreme Court of Canada eventually ruled that closing the facility would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by preventing drug users access to health services.
Canada’s second injection site, the Dr. Peter Centre, was given the green light in January, marking seven years since approval was first sought, said Corneil.
The Dr. Peter Centre isn’t entirely the same as Insite, as it integrates the safe injection services into its existing clinic and offers a broad range of health and social services for patients living with HIV who also deal with mental health issues, homelessness and addictions.
And the proposed sites in Kelowna and Kamloops will be different again.
For one, they’re on a much smaller scope, which could make it more adaptive to the community’s needs — something the health authority is trying to confirm now, speaking to the street population to learn whether they’ll even use the service.
There will also likely be blowback from the business community. The Downtown Kelowna Association has already stated their view on the proposed fixed location site.
“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,” said Dan Allen, president of the DKA.
“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.”
Mayor Colin Basran has also raised questions about the location, namely whether it will bring more drug users to the area.
“Using published evidence and data that Vancouver has shared with us, those areas have not experienced an increase of users around site,” said Corneil.
“In the direct vicinity of the sites they find the number of maladaptive behaviours …littering of needles and so on… decreases,” he said.
“We’ve also spoken to business association in Vancouver. I remember the Chinatown business association and Downtown Eastside business association were opposed to the idea when (Insite) was introduced, but they came around and supported it after a few years.”
The service, he explained, gave drug users a place to go and shoot up other than in front of their shops and stores.
“Nobody wants that if they are a business owner,” said Corneil.
“And anybody who owns a business doesn’t want someone dying on the front steps of their business, either.”
Corneil said that they hope to get more information to those most affected in the days ahead.
“We are looking forward to opinions,” he said.
“This is not a done deal. We know people will be opposed.”