City council gave unanimous support to the concept of safe injection sites Tuesday, lending support in principal to a front-line strategy in a provincial health emergency over drug overdoses.
The support came after Dr. Silvina Mema, IHA medical health officer, gave an overview of safe injection sites as part of harm reduction, one of the four pillars approach to drug reduction.
Dr. Mema said Interior Health is proposing supervised injection sites — possibly one on the South Shore and one on the North Shore — as one measure to help reduce deaths.
“We believe these individuals still have a right to stay healthy and remain alive,” she added, pointing out that RIH was the first hospital in Canada to dispense naloxone, an antidote to overdoses of fentanyl. “So we’re championing harm reduction from that perspective.”
After seven fatal overdoses last year in Kamloops, there were 22 in the first six months of 2016, she said. People are using illicit drugs unsupervised in the street, where the risks of overdose are significant.
Supervised injection sites not only prevent deaths, they connect users with the services they need to overcome addiction, improving life conditions. They also benefit the community.
“The big thing for people to understand is that it reduces the public nuisance,” Mema said. “They prevent a greater harm to the public.”
In Vancouver, vehicle break-ins decreased after supervised injection began there 15 years ago.
Council acknowledged the province’s efforts in response to the crisis but didn’t want to give unconditional approval without a detailed proposal on the table. The sites still require a Health Canada exemption.
“There have been meetings with Health Canada,” Mema said. “They have committed to expedite the process for these exemptions.”
Coun. Ken Christian wanted reassurances that resources — specifically nurses in short supply — would not be pulled from other health services in support of a relatively small number of drug users in Kamloops.
“It doesn’t necessarily need to be nurses,” Mema said. “There does need to be training. It’s a concern Interior Health also has, where the resources are going to come from.”
“This isn’t the ultimate solution,” said Mayor Peter Milobar. “I think the world has changed in the last 15 years since Vancouver opened one. It’s certainly another step in trying to lessen the impact on individual lives and on the community as well.”
The next step is to find a suitable location where this service could be delivered, Mema said.
She was planning to meet Tuesday with business groups in order to begin the planning process by receiving input from stakeholders.