Interior Health’s overdose prevention site in Vernon is saving lives. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

Interior Health’s overdose prevention site in Vernon is saving lives. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

Vernon’s controversial overdose prevention site saving lives

Site sees fewer problems than expected, but some still want it moved

A record year of overdose deaths could have been twice as bad without harm reduction services, Vernon’s overdose prevention Site says.

It’s been almost one year since Vernon’s overdose prevention site (OPS) has opened, and the door has swung open 3,200 times.

Interior Health saw a record year of overdose deaths with 283 recorded in 2020. But without the recently opened OPS in Vernon, that number could have been a lot higher, IH officials said.

“The problem would be two times as high without emergency harm reduction and treatment (Naloxone, OPS and treatment),” Interior Medical Health officer Dr. Karen Goodison said. “Sixty per cent of all deaths were averted.”

Vernon saw the highest number of drug toxicity deaths with a rate of 39 out of 100,000 versus IH’s average rate of 34/100,000.

READ MORE: With 1,716 deaths, 2020 deadliest year of overdose crisis in B.C.

The local deaths were primarily men in their 40s (one-third), with two-thirds taking place in private residences (one-fifth occurred in other residences).

The local OCP site handed out more than 8,000 hard reduction supplies including, foils, glass stems, pipes, injection supplies and naloxone kits.

There were 378 consumption visits: 161 heroin, 79 methamphetamines, 72 fentanyl, 62 polysubstance and 13 cocaine.

Once a week, on Tuesdays, drugs can also be tested with a machine that identifies multiple ingredients (FTIR).

“We only need a piece the size of a grain of rice,” said Colleen McEwan, North Okanagan’s clinical operations director of mental health and substance use and allied health.

But the number of people visiting for consumption is low compared to those picking up supplies.

The site averages 250 monthly harm reduction visits with only 30-40 of those came for supervised consumption.

“We have had 30 overdose events since we opened,” Colleen McEwan said. Of those, 29 were managed by staff at the site, one had to go to the hospital, but none died.

The site saw 920 unique visitors, 572 first-timers and the OPS worked with neighbours to ensure the clinic was closed by 3 p.m. before any school children may be in the area for nearby dance classes, etc.

“We haven’t seen the issues that some of us were concerned about come about,” Vernon city Coun. Kari Gares said.

The site was a hot topic in the community prior to being established, with the location being the main concern.

“I’m your neighbour across the street. I’m surprised the number of patrons is as high as it is because I really don’t see that much traffic going in and out of there,” Coun. Brian Quiring said.

But some businesses say they are still — and tired of — regularly cleaning up crack pipes, needles, human feces and vandalism.

“It’s been a difficult time as the activity has continued on and there has been an increase in situations around our business,” one business told the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce. “We are constantly dealing with the drug and street entrenched people which is nothing new for us,” another said.

Chamber general manager Dan Proulx would like to see the site moved to the hospital, where he suggests it might see more people using the supervised consumption service as it isn’t as high profile as the 32nd Avenue location.

READ MORE: Chamber not pleased with overdose prevention site in downtown Vernon


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