Powell River Community Action Team (CAT) held a meeting at Carlson Community Club on Tuesday, December 10, to answer questions about the Overdose Prevention Site (OPS), located at Joyce Avenue and Duncan Street.
CAT plans to hold additional public meetings in 2020 to discuss solutions and follow-up questions raised during Tuesday’s gathering.
The meeting was called after a petition raised concerns about a perceived increase in drug paraphernalia in the areas surrounding the OPS, and people loitering near the entrances of the nearby Powell River Gymnastics Society.
CAT coordinator Kathryn Colby said the goal of the meeting was to open dialogue about practical solutions to those concerns.
“We’re all grappling with the opioid emergency, so we’re trying to respond to immediate needs so that people can stop dying,” she explained. “When people come together like this, the kind of solutions that come up will be really localized, and really practical. We really want to work together as a community because we know that’s the only way things will move forward.”
Despite some of the concerns raised in the petition, Colby noted the overdose prevention program itself has so far been successful.
“We have been open six months, and in that time over 600 unique visits to the sites have occurred, and several overdoses have been reversed that would have otherwise been fatal,” she added.
That sentiment was echoed by Darlana Treloar, who lost her son, Sean, to a fentanyl overdose in 2016. During the meeting, she read aloud a statement explaining how her son’s life could have been saved by an overdose prevention site.
“My son got addicted to prescription pills when he was a teenager,” said Treloar. “The night Sean passed away he was sitting at 7-Eleven, messaging people, trying to find a safe place to use. Everyone he messaged was either busy, or didn’t pick up, so he went to the apartments on Glacier [Street], and used in a bathroom, alone. That’s where his life ended. I feel if the OPS was there, in that spot, I might still have my son.”
Other attendees included employees and parents of children using the gymnastics society, and staff and parents of students at École Côte du Soleil. Questions about the OPS centred on the risks posed by discarded needles, and children’s exposure to people struggling with opioid use.
CAT organizers explained that while the risk of disease transmission via used needles is extremely low (around 0.3 per cent for HIV), people who find such items have the option of contacting the fire department via the non-emergency line to request disposal, or placing needles inside hard plastic containers (such as water bottles).
OPS staff already regularly sweep surrounding areas for needles. However, suggestions for additional measures included expanding the sweep to the French school, and setting up additional sharps boxes in the area. Participants also discussed the OPS sharing information resources with the school for parents.
Another issue raised was the increase in property crime in the area. While this trend has not been directly linked to OPS visitors so far, CAT staff said they are in regular contact with Powell River RCMP, which has a presence on CAT. However, no officer was able to attend Tuesday’s meeting.
City councillor Rob Southcott, who worked as a paramedic for 32 years, also attended the event. He said he hopes the meeting will serve as a starting point for cooperation in addressing concerns, and that OPS continues to be successful.
“This community comes together to work on things we all care about,” said Southcott. “The answers appear as community works together. This community is amazing at that already.”
Cosmos, who works at OPS, felt the meeting was well-handled, and looks forward to additional meetings next year.
“We’re taking the steps slowly to solve each problem,” he said. “We are at the frontline of that. For me, as a user on the methadone program, I see a lot of self-loathing in the drug-using community, people who are lost. The OPS is there to provide an anchor for even just the simplest things, which can give people peace of mind.”