No Safe Injection Site in P.G.
Prince George, B.C.- Recent measures announced by the Ministry of Health to reduce the number of opioid overdoses may have left the impression that Prince George has a safe injection site , but that is not the case.Northern Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Sandra Allison sets the record straight “We are not helping people with their injections, we are not helping them understand the consequences of their actions, we are not doing counselling, we are not helping them select a site for an injection on their body because that is what supervision happens at InSight ( supervised injection site in the lower mainland) that is not anything that we are doing. We just know that people are injecting and that people are dying and we need to do something more.”
To that end, the hours and staffing at the HIV AIDS Prevention program ( needle exchange) have been extended. Dr, Allison says Northern Health is aware that for years people have been injecting in the downtown in many different places, including alleys, doorways and bathrooms of fast food outlets, “What we’ve found over the past three to five months is that our staff (at the Needle exchange) are responding to overdoses, in fact, leaving our site and running up the street , having been beckoned by users, so we really appreciate the steps Minister Lake has taken to provide us with space and the time to allow our staff to be more prepared to respond.”
She says it is not uncommon for someone who has injected to arrive at the needle exchange and collapse on the floor, so while the extended hours and extra staff can’t prevent an overdose, the changes should assist in helping those who are in crisis by having more people available for longer periods to respond to the needs of those who are overdosing.
“Is this how I want to respond to an overdose crisis? No” says Dr. Allison, “I would like to address all of the upstream drivers but I cannot.”
There are challenges to meeting the necessary requirements to establish a safe injection site, a proposition which currently isn’t practical for Northern Health given the vast geographic area the Health Authority covers and the remoteness of many communities. Dr. Allison says that for this region, the move should be towards safe injection services rather than a specific safe injection site.
In the meantime, the move is to provide extra hours and staff who can answer the call when needed “We are really trying to do a better job of being able to respond to an overdose.”