It’s been two-and-a-half years since a community campaign was launched to build a Supervised Consumption Services (SCS) site in Victoria to help prevent deaths from drug overdose.
And now organizers of the Yes2SCS campaign feel they are one step closer towards turning that goal into a reality thanks to signs of change in federal legislation and talks with local stakeholders.
According to Dr. Richard Crow, Island Health’s executive medical director, the health authority has always supported the concept of a SCS being part of a range of prevention, treatment and harm reduction services/support for people living with addictions, but requires support from every level of government.
Crow said the health authority has not been part of local discussions thus far because it was clear such a service would not be approved by the federal government. The newly elected government, however, has indicated it will likely take a new approach to the legislature framework surrounding supervised consumption in Canada.
“We now are seeing signals from the new federal government that the legislation will change and we look forward to the opportunity for further discussion and to working with governments at all levels, as well as other stakeholders,” said Crow, noting the health authority has already been working with community partners to better meet the needs of the marginalized population, such as the distribution of Naloxone kits through street nurses and outreach teams.
“If such a service were to be established and operated by Island Health, it would require substantial financial and operational resources, which would need to be considered against other competing priorities.”
The Yes2SCS campaign is comprised of health care professionals, researchers, community activists and social workers who’ve been building community support, along with promoting positive perceptions of people who use drugs and equity in health and social services.
According to campaign organizers, the criminalization of drug use and users causes people to hide and use alone because they are afraid of being arrested and humiliated by police. Supervised consumption, however, allows people to use in safer conditions with clean supplies under the supervision of nurses. If they overdose, there’s someone to take care of them.
Last Thursday, more than 100 people gathered in downtown Victoria for a memorial march that ended at the Johnson Street Park where a man died from a drug overdose in late December. The man was found to have a mixed cocktail of drugs in his system, including morphine, heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine.
His death was among eight suspected drug overdoses in the Greater Victoria area in the span of a week, sparking calls from outreach groups for immediate action.
Alex Holtom has been a member of Yes2SCS for a year-and-a-half. Working at an emergency shelter in Victoria, she estimates there are between two to three overdoses a week.
“We are seeing so many overdoses…this is really needed. There’s a lot of push for this in the community,” said Holtom, adding Yes2SCS should begin negotiations this year with the city, Island Health and Victoria police for establishing a service.
“We’re certainly committed to working with all levels of government…but it’s about them working with us and getting them to work with us. That’s been a struggle, but I think in the next couple of months we’re going to see some discussions happening and I’m really hopeful to see how those turn out.”
Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday was one of the people who participated in last week’s march. He said the city supports safe consumption sites, but it’s time for Island Health to come to the table and lead the charge.
“Either you go forward as the health authority or with the health authority’s permission, you set it up and you ask for help for support,” said Loveday. “These deaths are tragic and preventable…I just don’t see any reason why we’re not moving forward immediately with SCS in Victoria.”
A public forum will be held on Feb. 24 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the City Hall antechamber.