Finally, an enlightened strategy on drug overdose deaths

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
December 13, 2016 - 3:00pm Updated: December 14, 2016 - 3:07pm

KAMLOOPS — The last barriers to drug harm-reduction sites are falling, thanks to a drug-overdose crisis and some enlightened action by provincial and federal governments.

The federal Liberals announced Monday a new bill will eliminate 26 pre-conditions for “consumption” sites. Those pre-conditions have been so strict that for many years there was only one supervised-injection site — Insite in Vancouver — in all of Canada.

Ottawa’s decision to take action comes hard on the heels of the B.C. government’s decision to set up overdose-prevention sites in Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria, with supervised consumption sites in Kamloops and Kelowna early next year.

This flurry of activity — which would never have happened under a federal Conservative government that strongly resisted the kind of progressive action we’re seeing now — comes in the wake of the fentanyl overdose epidemic that has been leading the headlines for the past few months.

It brings with it a new lexicon to describe the facilities being created to deal with the crisis. Early in the conversation there were “safe injection sites,” a term still frequently used despite health professionals who point out there’s no such thing as a safe drug injection. Instead, the term “supervised injection” is preferred.

Now we speak of “supervised consumption sites” and “overdose prevention sites,” the latter focusing on saving addicts from killing themselves with bad drugs. It’s what the B.C. Liberals are hanging their hats on in setting up sites to battle the crisis because they’re convinced it can be done without going through the daunting process of getting an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The federal bill will clear the way for all manner of safety sites. None of it would have been possible a decade ago, especially in Kamloops, where the very mention of a supervised injection site was enough to put a politician’s career on the line.

Even today, the North Shore Business Improvement Association is on record against any such site within its neighbourhood.

But, overwhelmingly, the move is toward at least one and possibly two sites in River City. A usually cautious Kamloops City council has unanimously endorsed the concept, local health authorities favour it, and Health Minister Terry Lake is promoting it.

It all comes down to numbers — 622 drug overdose deaths in B.C. between January and October, most from fentanyl — have changed a lot of minds.