An Overdose Prevention Site (OPS), that opened in tents near the Memorial Cottage psychiatric rehabilitation facility next to Langley Memorial Hospital, was described as a temporary measure while the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) continues to look for a better, more permanent location.
Dr. Emily Newhouse, an FHA medical health officer, was responding to questions from Langley Advance Times in a Monday, Jan. 23 interview.
“We’ve been looking [for an OPS site in Langley] for two years,” Newhouse said.
“We haven’t been able to locate a site that meets all the needs, yet.”
Some family members of Memorial Cottage patients expressed dismay after tents went up, saying it was a poor choice, because many of the patients staying at the facility have substance abuse problems.
“I am not opposed to safe drug injection sites, but why this location?” one asked.
Another, who said their child, a patient at the Cottage, was a recovering addict, “couldn’t believe” the decision to allow addicts to consume drugs nearby.
In response, Newhouse said the Cottage facility was consulted, and the two facilities are being kept separate.
“Certainly, we’re conscious for the need to have protocols, that these two patient populations don’t interact,” Newhouse said.
No drugs are stored at the OPS, which provides a location where drugs can be ingested with someone present who can intervene if there is an overdose.
It is the first OPS opened in the Langley area by the FHA, Newhouse said, though there have previously been short-term sites opened during extreme weather conditions. It will operate seven days a week, from noon till 6 p.m.
There are nine OPS facilities now operating in the Fraser Health region, she estimated.
“We know it’s [the Langley site] not the ideal location for accessibility,” Newhouse noted, explaining the health authority would like a more permanent site that is easily reached by clients, which “ tends to be closer to downtown” and other services.
“Ideally, we would want to be in a place where it’s acceptable to the neighbours in the surrounding area.”
Newhouse described the numbers of drug overdoses as “critical,” pointing to statistics that show paramedics in Langley City and Township handled 675 case in 2021, and 487 in the first 10 months of 2022, numbers that do not include overdose cases taken to hospital ERs by friends, or handled by other first responders.
A B.C. Coroners Service report on “Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths” reported 37 fatal overdoses in the Langley area between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31 of 2022, compared to 58 for all of 2021.
In January of 2021, Langley Township council heard a delegation from Fraser Health Authority explain it wanted to establish an Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) in Langley to combat an alarming increase in drug-related deaths.
An OPS would allow drug users to have “witnessed consumption,” so they can take their drugs with someone present in case there’s an emergency. It would also distribute Naloxone kits, which can revive people who have suffered opioid overdoses, and offer links and referrals to other health programs, including, for those who want it, addiction counselling and detox.
In February of the same year, a Fraser Health Authority delegation appeared before Langley City council regarding the proposed OPS, saying it would serve both the City and Township, offering what was termed “witnessed consumption,” where people take their drugs with someone present who can intervene if there is an overdose.
At the time, Dan Kipper, director of clinical programs for Fraser Health, promised there would be consultation before a location is picked.
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