Powell River overdose protection site now in operation

Powell River’s overdose prevention site opened its doors on July 4.

The services that will be offered at the site include harm reduction supplies, safer using, substance use and treatment support, naloxone, peer volunteer opportunities, health referrals and early recovery, City of Powell River Coun. Maggie Hathaway said.

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“I’m really optimistic about this program,” she said.

Powell River Community Action Team (CAT) coordinator Kathryn Colby said the site has already been used.

“Stigma and shame causes people to use alone, putting them at extreme risk of fentanyl poisoning and overdose,” said Colby. “Middle-aged working men, many with young families, are incredibly vulnerable to accidental overdose death, leaving a social toll on the community which we have yet to fully realize. This overdose prevention site pilot is a community-created project, designed to address these preventable tragedies.”

Colby said she is hoping to see more of those people come by for harm reduction education and support, even if they do not use the site specifically for actual using.

She said the CAT is also offering naloxone training in the community so there will be more information coming on that aspect of the program.

Colby said other overdose prevention sites in the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region have been effective and there has not been a single overdose death at any of the sites.

Powell River has the second highest fatal overdose rates in the VCH region.

In 2018, BC Emergency Health Services reported 76 calls for overdose in Powell River. There have been 26 calls for overdoses so far in 2019, as of May 26. Those numbers do not capture all opioid overdoses in the community and may also include cases of alcohol intoxication and poisoning ingestions.

“We want to make sure we put overdose response and treatment services where people need them. Within VCH, Powell River has been the hardest hit community by the overdose crisis and contaminated drug supply, next to Vancouver,” said VCH medical health officer Geoff McKee. “The majority of people who die hide their drug use, and sadly, they die alone. Overdose prevention sites in VCH have saved hundreds of people from a fatal overdose.”

The Powell River overdose prevention service is badly needed, said CAT and SUSTAIN peer network member Shannon Ollson.

“There are overdoses in the laundromat, at Larry Gouthro Park, in the bathroom at convenience stores,” she added. “This new site will give people a safe place to be monitored so they can get the help they need.”

VCH will provide clinical support and harm reduction supplies, while PREP Community Programs (PREP), a local not-for-profit agency, will manage the site day to day. PREP staff and local peers, who have been trained in overdose prevention and harm reduction, will monitor clients and connect them to life-saving services like detox, addictions counselling and other medical treatment.

City of Powell River is leasing the land to the proponents for free for one year. The service is being funded by VCH as well as the CAT, which includes members from 67 local organizations including municipal government, Tla'amin Nation, first responders, frontline community agencies, experts, residents and families with lived experience.

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