Tara is a drug user in Courtenay who is upset that the Aids Vancouver Island Overdose Prevention Site there will be closing.
“It’s been the difference between me and death a couple of times,” she said.
Tara is one of about 25 people who use the OPS in Courtenay every week. She says she uses it because it’s safe and clean as opposed to ‘shooting up’ in an alley or washroom.
However, after March 31st she may not have another choice because Island Health has not renewed the contract for Aids VI to provide the service.
“I’m somewhat flabbergasted,” Tara added. “Whenever there is something that is actually working it tends to get taken away or shut down or something right when we’re getting it right.”
In a statement to CHEK News, Island Health states:
“The current overdose prevention services in Courtenay were not being used to minimum expectations and, given the rate of overdose fatalities in the Comox Valley, were not meeting the broader needs of people who use substances in the region. We know the vast majority of people using substances in the Comox Valley are doing so in private residences.
In fact, utilization data showed overall in 2019 the Courtenay overdose prevention site operated at 22% capacity, the lowest such figure among overdose prevention sites within Island Health. The site reported no visits on 26% of potential days of operation in 2019.
In order to seek a service model that better meets the needs of all those at highest risk, Island Health issued a Request for Proposals in September 2019 for the provision of overdose prevention services in Courtenay. None of the responses to the RFP met the minimum requirements and none included the provision of weekend services.
Overdose prevention services are part of a broad overdose response strategy that includes education, intervention and prevention services, rehabilitation and recovery services, harm reduction, naloxone kits, counselling, supports and access to mental health services.
Island Health is committed to providing overdose prevention services in the Comox Valley and continuing to support the people using the current site, while defining options for broader access beyond March 31.
Aids Vancouver Island Executive Director Katrina Jensen says she is disappointed with the decision.
“Those numbers are definitely lower than other OPS’s however obviously the people who use the site really need it and the number of overdoses we’ve had in that site is on par with some of the larger communities,” Jensen said.
The staff at the Courtenay site have revived 47 people in the last three years.
“This was enacted in response to the current overdose crisis so the primary goal is to prevent death and support people to use substances in the safest way possible,” said Acting Manager Ashley Hancock.
Island Health says it will continue to support those who use the current site but hasn’t said how or where.