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White Rock overdose prevention site will stay at hospital

Fraser Health says OPS will remain at Peace Arch despite a petition asking for its relocation
White Rock's overdose prevention site on the grounds of Peace Arch Hospital offers a safe and supervised site for individuals to consume their drugs.

A group of White Rock residents are petitioning to have the city’s overdose prevention site possibly relocated, but Fraser Health is not planning to do anything of the sort.

The overdose prevention site opened on the grounds of Peace Arch Hospital in December 2021 in response to the toxic drug supply crisis in B.C. after a record 20 people in the area died from the unregulated supply, Dr. Emily Newhouse, a medical health officer at Fraser Health, shared with Peace Arch News.

“We acted quickly to meet the dire need for overdose prevention services in the community and chose the Peace Arch Hospital as its home, in part due to its proximity to additional health services to help support its clients.”

Declared a public health emergency in 2016, the toxic and unregulated drug supply in the province has claimed the lives of more than 14,000 people since April 2016.

The presence of the OPS in White Rock has received little attention from the public since its opening, until now. An online petition asking Fraser Health and the City of White Rock to re-evaluate the location and consider relocating it has been making the rounds in the community the last few weeks.

“Unfortunately, the opening of the overdose prevention site has led to increased instances of disruptive behaviour, disturbances, and public intoxication on our streets,” the petition reads. “The peaceful and secure environment we once enjoyed has been compromised, and the escalated police presence is a clear indicator of the severity of the situation."

Although the petition is addressed to both the city and the health authority, the location of an OPS is provincial jurisdiction.

Overdose prevention sites aim to reduce the number of toxic-drug-related overdoses and deaths and limit the health, social and economic consequences associated with substance use, Fraser Health states.

Open five days a week, users of the OPS can inject or consume substances intranasally while being supervised by trained harm reduction workers who can assist in the case of a toxic drug poisoning. At Peace Point, an inhalation area is also available outdoors, with clients also able to access naloxone kits and harm reduction supplies.

There have been 20 deaths in the Semiahmoo Peninsula each year, for the last three years, due to the unregulated drug supply, according to Fraser Health’s harm reduction co-ordinator for Fraser South, Jennifer Conway-Brown.

“These deaths speak to the urgency and necessity of providing overdose prevention services in the area to meet the needs of the community,” Conway-Brown said.

From the beginning of January to the end of March this year, Peace Point had a total of 231 visits.

“Our goal is to have witnessed consumption services in all Fraser Health communities, and we continue to pursue appropriate locations to implement these services. We continue to engage with municipalities, key stakeholders, local businesses, and neighbourhoods when considering needs for overdose prevention services as part of our response to the ongoing drug-poisoning crisis,” a statement from Fraser Health reads.

Newhouse added that public engagement has been ongoing since the beginning, through monthly meetings in White Rock with the Community Action Team. There, the White Rock/South Surrey chapter discusses the public health crisis and hears from individuals with lived or living experience and experts in the field.

Since Peace Point's opening, there have been three instances that "would have ended in fatalities had they not been using at our site," shared George Passmore, executive director at Sources Community Resources, the organization that operates the OPS in White Rock.

"Overdose prevention sites are life-saving," he stressed to PAN.

"While I understand some of the discomfort people may have in seeing folks (use drugs) around their community, there’s a part of the petition that I would suggest the evidence does not support — the claim that our site is creating addiction, that it’s increasing the amount of addiction in our community.

"The people at our site were already using substances in our community, and they finally have a safe place to use."

Individuals who use substances were doing so in risky ways, which include alone in residences, Passmore said, stressing that "this has always been a hidden issue in our community, it's just more visible now."

Being that the emergency was declared eight years ago and the deaths continue to rise, the Sources director says Peace Point is just one initiative that has helped to save lives. Offering drug testing and trained staff on-site, the space has also allowed individuals to form community with one another to feel less isolated.

This is something Passmore and Leanne Utendale, a staffer at the OPS, say they hear consistently.

The health authority has not considered closing any overdose prevention sites, nor does it plan to close any, including White Rock's, at this time, Newhouse confirmed.

For individuals looking to provide feedback to Fraser Health about any services in the community, including the OPS, Newhouse says emails can be sent to

Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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