It’s been more than a decade since North America’s first legal supervised injection site opened its doors on the Downtown East Side and now debate is flying over whether Surrey should have its own.
With epidemic levels of overdoses, Fraser Health says they’re putting together an “aggressive” strategy to combat the issue – possibly such a facility in Surrey.
On the weekend of July 15, Surrey Memorial Hospital saw 43 overdoses. Since then? An average of three a day.
It’s getting worse, officials say. Scary, considering the number of people dying from overdoses was shocking even before the recent spike. And Fraser Health says those overdosing are of all ages, and it’s affecting everyone from recreational users to full-blown addicts.
In the first half of 2016, 44 people died in Surrey of illicit drug overdose. Province-wide, 371 people lost their lives – a 74 per cent jump from the same period of 2015.
To put that into perspective, there have been seven homicides in Surrey and another 13 people killed in traffic crashes (eight of those pedestrians). Combined? It’s still less than half of the number of lives drugs have taken.
Something must be done.
The experts say it best, right?
Well, I’ll let them make my point for me.
Doctors Julio Montaner and Thomas Kerr of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS wrote a submission to the Vancouver Sun in 2013 about the successful history of Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site.
Here’s what they had to say.
“A large body of scientific evidence shows that Insite is meeting its objectives,” the letter states. “Peer-reviewed studies involving dozens of researchers from Canada, Australia, Britain and the U.S. demonstrate clearly that Insite does not increase crime or perpetuate active drug use. More than 30 peer-reviewed studies show that Insite saves lives and health care dollars, reduces disease transmission and promotes entry into addiction treatment.”
The doctors also say, “The program now has the support of leading national health organizations such as the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Association of Nurses and the Canadian Public Health Association.”
Sounds pretty solid, right?
If you’re not convinced yet, here’s more.
A 2011 study published in the medical journal The Lancet received recorded deaths and, using appropriate statistical methods, found fatal overdoses within 500 metres of Insite decreased by 35 per cent after the facility opened, compared to just a nine per cent decrease in the rest of Vancouver.
Interestingly enough, safe injection services actually existed in Vancouver before Insite – in a safe-injection room at the Dr. Peter Centre a year before Insite opened in 2003.
The facility’s executive director, Maxine Davis, said in a 2008 interview with Black Press that it didn’t require a Section 56 exemption (like Insite did) because the centre’s “harm reduction room” is part of a larger spectrum of care under the “comfort care” model developed by Dr. Peter Jepson-Young, a B.C. doctor famous for publicly documenting his battle with AIDS in the early 1990s (and for whom the centre is now named).
The centre, in a four-storey building behind St. Paul’s Hospital, has a day health program and a 24-hour care residence for people with HIV/AIDS. Nurses also provide safe injection services for people in their rooms who are in the 24-hour resident care program.
In fact, registered nurses were the first to suggest the provision of safe-injection at the Dr. Peter Centre.
Davis told Black Press nurses came to her and said, “We think what we are doing is unethical. We are giving people clean needles and sending them outside to inject. Because of that, they risk overdosing and dying, and what we observe as nurses is preventable infections: They rush their injections outside in bushes, they don’t want to be embarrassed by people seeing them, they come back into the centre with ripped veins and skin, and they end up with infections that are preventable and they end up in hospital. As nurses, we find that unacceptable when we know what we can do to prevent that.”
Davis noted the single biggest contributing factor to the risk of death by overdose is injecting alone.
Despite all this evidence, the critics are still out there. They probably always will be. Some will always see this type of help as enabling.
But what’s the alternative?
More overdose deaths? More people contracting diseases that land them in hospitals, ultimately costing horrendous amounts of dollars to the public health system and, in the end, they die anyway?
Let’s do what we can to prevent these diseases and save lives.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner hasn’t been convinced that such a facility should be built in our city.
Here’s hoping she can be.
Now staff writer Amy Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org