New health centre provides therapy to opioid users

Some concerned with facility’s proximity to elementary school

Sitting in Dr. Randal Mason’s office at the new AIDS Vancouver Island Health Centre, it looks no different than any other doctor’s office.

There are two black chairs, a computer tucked away in the far corner and an examination table. The grey walls sit bare, with no information posters or stethoscopes hanging from the walls. This is where people suffering from opioid addictions can now come for treatment.

The clinic, which opened quietly last month at 111-2787 Jacklin Rd., is the first of its kind on the West Shore and provides supervised opiate substitution therapy, as well as harm reduction services and information on disease prevention, safer drug use and overdose prevention to patients.

As part of the program, patients who are actively using or looking to stop are prescribed medications, which help reduce one’s need for a fix.

They then get the prescription filled at a pharmacy and take the medications orally, which stays in their system for up to 24 hours.

“Basically we’re replacing their need for that short-action opioid, be it heroine or whatever substance they’re on, with these long-acting very predictable medications,” said Mason, medical director of the clinic.

“They’re no longer having to go out and find this medication when they start going into withdraw. Not only is it a huge benefit to their health, but it provides them more stability in their life.”

Since opening last month, the clinic has seen roughly 15 patients per day on the Tuesdays and Thursdays it’s open. Mason said it’s getting busier every week and it’s no surprise why.

In August, there were 113 suspected drug overdose deaths in B.C. – a 79 per cent increase compared to the same month last year. So far this year, there have been 65 illicit drug overdose deaths in Victoria alone, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

With overdose deaths climbing, the demand for such services have been growing locally as well. While there are a few opiate substitution therapy services in Victoria, Mason said about 40 per cent of people accessing care downtown are travelling from the West Shore and Sooke.

“The thought was to give people access to care in the community in which they live or at least closer to where they live, which would further reduce barriers to improving their health,” he said. But not everyone is on board with the idea.

Some area residents and parents of students that attend Ruth King Elementary school, located across the street from the clinic, say proper community consultation was not done and that it is not an appropriate place for such services.

“If you have an opioid treatment facility, there are going to be addicts,” said a concerned resident, whose granddaughter goes to Ruth King. “It’s ideal in theory that there won’t be any consumption of anything around there, but that’s the Pollyanna attitude … they wouldn’t let a pot shop in there or a liquor store in there, so why on earth would they put something like that in there?”

However, Mason assured there is no drug use permitted on the property. “It would be rare to have somebody come in and then use intravenously outside. There’s no evidence to show that anyone is at an increased risk of harm,” said Mason, noting the organization did meet with SD62 superintendent Jim Cambridge and the principal of Ruth King before the facility opened.

“If anything, I would say the opposite because we’re here to provide support to people who are living in this community to help improve their health … We’re not a supervised injection site and have no plans to become one.”

In the future, there are plans to gradually grow services at the facility to include HIV and hepatitis support, education and treatment in addiction to other health-focused programming.

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