Update (5 p.m.) The Downtown Kelowna Association issued a statement in support of a mobile injection service announced Friday by Interior Health.
“We have had many positive meetings with Interior Health and recognize that they are working hard on the fentanyl crisis,” said Dan Allen of the DKA. “They have been very open with us about the crisis and have listened to our point of view. Interior Health has told us that consultations with stakeholders will continue and the Downtown Kelowna Association will remain involved. We are pleased to be part of the process.
“This health emergency is not limited to downtown,” Allen added. “Unfortunately it is in every neighbourhood in our region wherever people are using drugs whether they are chronic users or recreational ones. We have talked extensively with Interior Health about a mobile unit which would travel to parts of the community where overdoses are happening right now. In our discussions, we believe a mobile unit will reach more people and have a greater impact.”
Interior Health will apply for a mobile supervised injection service to try and deal with the overdose crisis in both Kelowna and Kamloops.
On Friday, Interior Health met with community stakeholders in Kelowna and Kamloops to discuss its decision to submit an application to Health Canada for mobile supervised consumption services to operate in both Kamloops and Kelowna.
The decision comes following extensive stakeholder consultation in both communities.
IH medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema told reporters Friday the mobile serve is needed in Kelowna because there are multiple locations where drug use is taking place and the number of drug overdoses is rising at an alarming rate.
“We are living through a health overdoese emergency,” said Mema, adding, in large part due to fentynol, the number of overdose deaths has doubled here in the last year.
She said in addition to supervised drug consumption, other harm-reduction efforts will also be provided through the mobile service. It will likely be staffed by a nurse and a counsellor but specific plans about its operation, and where it will stop around the city, have yet to be figured out, said Mema.
She said mobile service will have three objective—to prevent overdose deaths, engage people who take drug into care and minimize the amount of public drug use.
“We know people are using drugs on the streets and leaving needles behind,” she said.
According to B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake, Kamloops and Kelowna continue to experience the highest number of overdose deaths in Interior Health.
“Kamloops had well over four times as many overdose deaths last year than in 2015 and in Kelowna the numbers have doubled. Supervised consumption services are one of a number of tools we are employing in the province to help address this crisis, and Interior Health’s application to Health Canada puts us one step closer to implementing this important service that can help save lives in the two hardest-hit communities in the Interior.”
The decision to submit an application was based on the outcome of meetings with key stakeholders, public feedback, data on where overdoses are occurring in the two cities, and operational considerations. The proposed mobile units would allow supervised consumption services, support, and other health-care services to be provided in an outreach model to more than one area of each community.
“Our data shows that in Kamloops overdoses are occurring most often in both the North Shore and downtown areas. In Kelowna, our data also shows two hot-spots – one being in the downtown core and the other in Rutland,” said Dr. Trevor Corneil, Chief Medical Health Officer with Interior Health. “A mobile service is the best way to make supervised consumption services accessible in the areas where it is needed most.”
A mobile unit would offer supervised consumption services from a small bus, RV, or van that has been retrofitted with the necessary equipment. The mobile unit would park at pre-determined locations throughout the day. The specific hours of operation and locations where a mobile unit would stop have not been finalized.
“Through our conversations with people who use drugs and other community stakeholders, we know that selecting the right time and place to offer this service will be crucial to its success,” said Dr. Corneil. “It is important that we continue to work together to come up with a plan that will allow the service to be easily accessible for people who use drugs, while also addressing any potential concerns our stakeholders may have.”
Interior Health is in the midst of compiling all the required material for the application. Once the application is submitted, it is unknown how long it will take for Health Canada to make a decision. If approved by Health Canada, mobile supervised consumption services in Interior Health would be among the first in Canada.