Community Profile: Overdose Prevention Site
The Overdose Prevention Site saves lives. It provides onsite observation for intravenous opioid consumption, access to resources and drug testing for the presence of fentanyl. It is a partnership funded by Island Health and run by Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Mid Island Branch.
The Overdose Prevention Site has already helped many in our community. Between April 2019 and March 2020 there were 34,000 visits, serving about 450 people.
“We are providing a safer way for people to use their drugs; a direct response to the opioid poisoning crisis. It’s a life and death situation for many people,” says Kiersten Stewart, Programs Director at CMHA.
People come to the Overdose Prevention Site for a variety of reasons: to pick-up harm reduction kits, to access information, to connect with a substance use nurse and sometimes simply to let the staff know they’re alive.
“It’s a place where people feel welcome and safe. Here, they can openly talk about their drug use, without judgement,” says Stewart.
Onsite, there’s an Emergency Medical Responder and harm reduction worker.
Peer Work Opportunities
The Overdose Prevention Site provides paid work opportunities for people who use their services; peers. Peers are paid to assemble the harm reduction kits that the site distributes. There is also a clean sweep program, where peers go out twice a day to pick-up garbage and drug paraphernalia in the downtown area and connect with people in the community.
“These paid work programs give peers a sense of purpose as they contribute to the organization and to their community. Our organization is stronger because we include our peers,” explains Stewart.
Changes since COVID-19
The Overdose Prevention Site is concerned with the health and safety of both clients and staff during COVID-19. They have reduced the number of tables to allow for social distancing. The hours have been reduced to 11am – 9pm to accommodate reduced numbers of staff.
Unfortunately, this means that though people are still coming in for harm reduction kits many are using drugs elsewhere. The unpredictable potency of drugs has also skyrocketed with COVID-19. There have been a number Overdose Alerts issued by Island Health since March. This makes the need for a safe place to use while being observed even more important.
Moving forward, the organization is looking to foster connection with people who don’t access their services. There’s a deep stigma attached to drug use, which means it’s difficult to reach the population who use drugs by themselves.
For more information about the life saving programs at the Overdose Prevention Site, visit https://www.cmhamidisland.ca/ops or call (250) 244-4042 ext. 209.