Vancouver, BC – Health Canada has approved Vancouver Coastal Health's application for a new supervised injection service on the Downtown Eastside (DTES), where the life-saving service can have the most impact on the public health overdose crisis.
"Staff at the Ministry of Health and health authorities have been working very hard for several months to get approval from Health Canada for additional supervised consumption sites to combat the overdose crisis," said provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall. "We are very pleased today to have received the first three approvals for new sites in the Lower Mainland. With more than 3 million injections at Insite and not one overdose death, we know these new sites will be a critical tool in our effort to save lives."
"We lost 216 mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and friends last year to illicit drug overdoses in Vancouver," says Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer, VCH. "This new supervised injection service will go a long way in helping to stem the fatalities that are plaguing our city."
The service will be located in a drop-in centre for people living with mental health and substance use challenges called the Powell Street Getaway (528 Powell Street). An overdose prevention site has been operating at this location since December 2016. The new six supervised injection booths will be open 12 hours a day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is expected to be fully operational in June once renovations are complete.
Powell Street Getaway, funded by VCH and operated by the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, offers a safe space where clients can learn life skills such as vocational training, nutrition and harm reduction, and access psychosocial rehabilitation programs.
"Incorporating supervised injection into the care of clients who use illicit drugs helps prevent overdose deaths, infections, and the spread of disease such as HIV and hepatitis C, while at the same time engaging vulnerable people in other health care services including mental health and withdrawal management," says Laura Case, Chief Operating Officer, Vancouver Community. "Once clients become more engaged with the health care system, they are more likely to pursue detox, addiction counselling and addiction treatment services."
"We are excited to offer supervised injection services that we know will increase safety and connections to care in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside," says Shayne Williams, Executive Director for Lookout Emergency Aid Society. "By embedding supervised injection within our Powell Street Getaway we are establishing a drop-in centre where there are opportunities for people to build trust with staff, boost referrals to treatment and other health care options, and minimize the risk of overdose for some of the most vulnerable people in our community."
"Vancouver Coastal Health's supervised injection services are invaluable for saving lives from drug overdoses and connecting people to critically needed treatment services, particularly as Vancouver grapples with the fentanyl crisis," says Mayor Gregor Robertson. "This new supervised injection service at 528 Powell will have significant positive impact for its users, preventing drug overdose deaths by getting people indoors and connecting them to life-saving harm reduction and vital services like detox, addictions counselling and treatment."
An exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is required from the Government of Canada to legally operate supervised injection services.
VCH has a second exemption application for a supervised injection service at the Heatley Integrated Health Centre (330 Heatley Street, Vancouver) that is still pending approval from Health Canada.
Supervised injection is part of VCH's DTES Second Generation Strategy and one component of a comprehensive response to the provincial public health emergency that includes preventing overdoses, encouraging less harmful drug use, and providing treatment options for people with substance use disorders. Extensive research at Insite shows that supervised consumptions services prevent overdoses, reduce disease transmission and help connect people to treatment and care.
VCH's new supervised injection service supports the work of the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response established in 2016. As part of the wide range of actions taken, partners across the health system continue to expand access to life-saving naloxone and opioid addiction medications and treatments such as Suboxone, open more overdose prevention sites, work with Health Canada on approvals to open additional supervised consumption sites and improve the system of substance use services.
VCH is responsible for the delivery of $3.3 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
Photo of Powell Street Getaway overdose prevention site courtesy of Lookout Emergency Aid Society
Tiffany Akins, Communications Leader
Vancouver Coastal Health