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White Rock overdose-prevention site ‘gives people a chance to stay alive’

Supervised consumption, education and other supports ‘reduce death and other harms’

White Rock’s first overdose-prevention site is a welcome and much-needed addition to resources on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, officials say.

Opening its doors Tuesday evening (Dec. 14) on the Peace Arch Hospital campus, the Peace Point centre has “been a long time coming,” said George Passmore, director of personal and family counselling and support for Sources Community Resource Centres.

“This is really a no-brainer,” Passmore continued. “It gives people a chance to stay alive, a chance to maybe come out of this without HIV, Hep C, and be able to not have to use in really unsavoury situations.”

Overdose-prevention sites aim to prevent drug overdoses and overdose deaths, and reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences associated with substance use, by providing a place for supervised consumption, a news release explains.

Announced Tuesday morning, the Peace Point facility is co-located with the opioid agonist therapy clinic at the White Rock/South Surrey Mental Health and Substance Use Centre in the hospital’s Russell Annex.

In the news release, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson – noting “almost everyone” knows someone whose life has been touched by the “poisoned drug crisis” – said it will “save lives in South Surrey and White Rock and connect more people to the services and supports they need.”

Operated by Sources, it is the sixth such facility in the Fraser Health region, and is open to anyone who wants to have their substance use witnessed by trained staff, to mitigate the risks of ingesting contaminated or toxic drugs.

Tuesday’s announcement came in the wake of the latest overdose-death statistics released by the BC Coroners Service.

Shared Dec. 9, they show a new record was reached in October, with 201 deaths due to overdose recorded.

READ MORE: B.C. sees deadliest month of illicit drug crisis with 201 fatal overdoses in October

Further stats show that if current trends continue, overdose deaths in the Fraser Health region will surpass 2020 counts by 23 per cent.

Passmore said the number of people living outside in White Rock/South Surrey, and maybe using substances, has been on the rise – “you just have to look along King George Boulevard and 24 Avenue, and the Esso station there.”

It’s evidence that the toxic drug supply is “something that can very much change people’s lives.”

The overdose-prevention site can provide an opportunity for people who are struggling to find connection and support, Passmore said.

It will be open from 5:30-10:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, and from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, although the hours may be adjusted in response to demand and other considerations.

There will be no witnessed consumption services at the site outside of these hours, and those younger than 19 “will receive extra support and additional assessment measures if they agree to receiving service.”

In addition to offering witnessed substance use and testing of those drugs for opioids, the site will provide overdose-prevention education; take-home Naloxone training and distribution; onsite monitoring of people who are at risk of overdose; and rapid detection of and response to overdose where necessary. It will also provide “harm-reduction supply distribution and disposal options,” and facilitate referrals to health services.

Passmore said a peer support network is launching simultaneously to help address the human-connection gap. Supported by a $50,000 grant from Peace Arch Hospital Foundation, it will include community outreach teams going out approximately three days a week “to connect folks who otherwise might be experiencing a lot of isolation or feeling marginalized.”

Noting White Rock currently has the most community Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per capita in Canada, Passmore said when it comes to people who aren’t ready for something like abstinence, “there is nothing in the way of community.”

The new network aims to address that. It’s being led by Rochele Strano, who started the same kind of peer support group in Nanaimo, while she herself was homeless, Passmore noted.

READ MORE:My friends aren’t going to sell me stuff to hurt me’: South Surrey overdose victim

The release notes that to date, there have been no overdose deaths at overdose-prevention or supervised-consumption sites in B.C., nor are such sites associated with an increase in drug use or drug-related crime.

Passmore said Peace Point is a judgment-free tool. He encouraged those who don’t want to access its services to continue using the Lifeguard App.

The brainchild of White Rock’s Jeff Hardy, it uses GPS tracking to bring an ambulance to a user who is overdosing.
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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