WHALLEY — Surrey’s first supervised consumption site was scheduled to open Thursday (June 8).
It is the first such site in the Fraser Health region since the spike in overdose deaths last year.
Province-wide, nearly 1,000 people died from overdosing last year, and of those, 108 were in Surrey. Another 51 people have died from overdosing in Surrey so far this year.
On Tuesday, the Now-Leader was given a tour of the 135A Street location, dubbed “SafePoint.”
It is sandwiched between Lookout Emergency Aid Society’s emergency Gateway shelter and health services building, and behind the Surrey Outreach Team’s command centre.
Inside there are seven booths, in which drug users can safely inject their drugs under the supervision of nurses and other staff. It will be staffed with a minimum of four people while open, from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
But Fraser Health is seeking further approval from Health Canada to allow for intra-nasal and oral substances – which would be a first in Canada.
That would allow for users to snort and smoke their drugs inside.
“When we look at overdose death data, 33 per cent of people have consumed substances orally and 23 per cent of them have consumed intranasally and about 35 per cent inject their substances,” said Fraser Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Victoria Lee during the tour.
“We want to be able to address all of those concerns with our SafePoint site. We are waiting for Health Canada to allow us to have exemptions in all those areas as well.”
Lookout’s executive director Shayne Williams echoed Lee’s comments.
“This is really important,” said Williams, “because if you look at the actual overdose deaths in the province last year, there was over 1,000 and 500 this year already, there is a large percentage of people that are snorting and are smoking.”
But for the time being, injection will be all that’s allowed, as per Health Canada’s approval on May 26th.
Williams said Lookout is happy to be part of a regional approach to keep drug users safe.
“It’s been an awful long time that we’ve been advocating for help,” he added. “We see this as one more opportunity to help folks when they’re maybe contemplative and not ready for change, but when they’re ready for change we’re going to be there with hopefully a trustful relationship and we’re going to be able to help them make that change.”
Williams noted that just steps away, the organization has 80 shelter beds available.
He said he’s confident police won’t act as a barrier for people to access the safe injection site, even though RCMP are set up just steps away at a command centre.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this with our guests as well as local Surrey RCMP and community partners. It’s really important for the success of SafePoint that folks are given the opportunity to access services. We’ve had a guarantee from our policing partners that they’re not going to be interfering with people coming to SafePoint. Their goal, their primary goal on 135A Street, will be to focus in on the organized crime and the folks that are dealing in the neighbourhood with large quantities and not so much the people who are disenfranchised, poverty stricken and suffering from addictions.”
Karen Scott, a former drug addict who says she’s six months sober, said the safe consumption site will be a “positive” for the area.
“I’ve lost lots and lots of friends,” said Scott, who urged people to take precautions, regardless of their drug of choice.
“I was a home user and it’s so scary because if you’re living alone, you can’t get to the phone if you overdose,” added Scott. “You can’t grab a naloxone kit and bring yourself back. That’s why there’s so many in-home deaths. It’s a crisis out there right now. So anyone in Surrey that’s listening right now, please come to the consumption site. If you are using at home, have somebody there with you.”
Fraser Health stated at the launch that 70 per cent of overdose deaths have occurred in private residences, with only 30 per cent in public places.
A second supervised consumption site in Surrey has been approved at the 94A Street Quibble Creek Sobering Centre, which is set to open in mid-June. It will have two booths, according to Fraser Health.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said the two sites will “help save the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”
Asked if she’s heard opposition to the sites, Hepner said she’s heard “varying opinions.”
“‘What are you doing supporting a habit?’ That kind of thing. But you really then have to say it’s a response to a crisis and ensuring that those services are available so people can move into a healthy lifestyle.”
Both locations will provide health-care workers with opportunities to connect people who use substances with health care and community services, and will provide treatment for opioid addiction (suboxone and methadone).
Since services were enhanced at these locations in January, 237 people have started on their road to recovery (as of May 15), Fraser Health says.