Naloxone kits and pipes are some of the harm reduction supplies that OPS providers distribute. (Photo/AVI health and community services)

Naloxone kits and pipes are some of the harm reduction supplies that OPS providers distribute. (Photo/AVI health and community services)

Island Health seeks permanent site for inhalation OPS in Courtenay

Medical Health Officer advocates holistic approach

Island Health is committed to developing a fixed site for inhalation Overdose Prevention Services (OPS) in Courtenay.

While it offers OPS at 941 England St., this service only supports injection, whereas inhalation (smoking) OPS is the preferred consumption method.

A Request for Proposal did not yield a suitable site.

“941 England has been identified as a possible temporary site,” Lesley Howie, director, North Island Mental Health and Substance Use Services, said at Courtenay council March 8. “It would be built to survive the three to five years until we secure something more permanent.”

Long-term, the vision is to incorporate all OPS services into service planning locations. In the interim, Island Health’s mobile outreach team provides episodic OPS and witnessed consumption via injection and inhalation. This team operates five days a week. Island Health hopes to add staff to extend hours and days of service.

Coun. Doug Hillian, noting the stigma associated with drug use, asked presenters to comment as to how this type of site can integrate all consumers of health services.

North Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns said stigma is a barrier to access for those who need care. Decriminalization aims to reduce stigma, and to view substance use as a health issue.

“We are providing a health service,” Enns said. “I understand that people don’t want to see or experience other people’s distress, but it’s still there if you see it or not.”

Statistics on suspected drug toxicity deaths show that more than half happen at home, she added.

“There’s no way forward but accepting that people’s lives aren’t all like we would like them to be,” Enns said.

“Across that continuum of service is prescribed safe supply,” she added. “In the North Island, Health Canada has funded for a prescribed safe supply through AIDS Vancouver Island.”

In Campbell River and the Comox Valley, Enns said there are people enrolled in a program to access prescribed safe supply, which helps to lessen access from street drugs. Participants have largely said the program has stabilized their lives, and reduced cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Mayor Bob Wells said council has been vocal about the issue when speaking with senior governments. He asked for some insight into the two sides of the issue, in terms of funding and capacity.

Enns said people need to be stabilized in appropriate (supportive) housing.

“That’s not going to fix everything, but from my perspective, it is a key essential determinant for people to go on,” Enns said.

She would like to see a focus on prevention, support for young families, and a more holistic approach to health.

“We need to bring it all together for the intervention piece, and the prevention piece, but let’s get people housed.”

RELATED: Overdose prevention services broaden in Comox Valley

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