Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), in partnership with the Powell River Community Action Team (CAT), is planning to open an overdose prevention service in Powell River, where fatal overdose rates are the second highest in the VCH region. The Powell River Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) will open in June in a temporary structure in a lot on Joyce Avenue near Duncan Street.
“Communities in every corner of the province are impacted by the overdose crisis, including Powell River,” said BC minister of mental health and addictions Judy Darcy. “We know these services work. They save lives. This OPS will help ensure people who use substances in Powell River will have access to lifesaving services and connections to treatment and recovery and social services where and when they need them.”
In 2018, BC Emergency Health Services reported 76 calls for overdose in Powell River. There have been 26 calls for overdose so far this year, as of May 26. Those numbers do not capture all opioid overdoses in the community and may also include cases of alcohol intoxication and poisoning ingestions.
“We want to make sure we put overdose response and treatment services where people need them. Within VCH, Powell River has been the hardest-hit community by the overdose crisis and contaminated drug supply, next to Vancouver,” said VCH medical health officer Geoff McKee. “The majority of people who die hide their drug use, and sadly, they die alone. Overdose prevention sites in VCH have saved hundreds of people from a fatal overdose.”
Powell River resident Darlana Treloar’s son, Sean, died from an overdose three years ago just a few blocks away from where the overdose prevention site will be located. He was 27.
Treloar spoke about the night her son died: “I know from my son’s cell phone records that he was looking for a safe place to use that night. And nobody was home, or they were busy. So he went and used in a bathroom alone, so that’s where his life ended. This service will save lives.”
VCH will provide clinical support and harm reduction supplies, while PREP Community Programs, a local not-for-profit agency, will manage the site day to day. PREP staff and local peers, who have been trained in overdose prevention and harm reduction, will monitor clients and connect them to lifesaving services such as detox, addictions counselling and other medical treatment.
“This overdose prevention service is so badly needed,” said Powell River CAT member Shannan Ollson. “There are overdoses in the laundromat, at Larry Gouthro Park, in the bathroom at convenience stores. This new site will give people a safe place to be monitored so they can get the help they need.”
City of Powell River is providing the land to the proponents for free for one year. The service is being funded by VCH as well as CAT, which includes members from 67 local organizations, including municipal government, Tla’amin Nation, first responders, frontline community agencies, experts, residents and families with lived experience.
“Stigma and shame cause people to use alone, putting them at extreme risk of fentanyl poisoning and overdose,” said CAT coordinator Kathryn Colby. “Middle-aged men, many with young families, are incredibly vulnerable to accidental overdose death, leaving a social toll on the community, which we have yet to fully realize. This overdose prevention site pilot is a community-created project designed to address these preventable tragedies.”
VCH, PREP and City of Powell River will be developing a good neighbour agreement, which will outline the society’s commitment to minimize impact on the surrounding community. As with other OPS sites in the VCH region, staff will ensure a safe and well-kept environment around the service.
VCH has six other overdose prevention sites, all in Vancouver.
VCH is responsible for delivery of $3.3 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola. VCH also provides specialized care and services for people throughout BC, and is the province’s hub of health care education and research.
PREP Society is a not-for-profit agency that provides support and advocacy for people in Powell River who are in transition, who are marginalized, and/or are in need of additional community resources. Operating since 1984, its programs are designed to address the current and emerging needs of individuals and families across all demographics. The society’s goal is to give support when needed while building capacity for independence and self-advocacy as appropriate.