The opening of the downtown supervised consumption site has been delayed as the government finalizes renovations and completes staffing requirements.
The facility was originally scheduled to open on Aug. 31, according to the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the NDP and Liberals.
Cameron Grandy, acting director of mental wellness and substance use services, said they are now expecting the site to be active at 6189 6th Avenue at the end of the month.
“It is our expectation it’ll be staffed as well as the infrastructure and building requirements completed for late September,” he said.
“There are certain staff policies, client policies and hygienic measures that need to be put in place around the fact that substances would be coming in. Some of that is infrastructure to the building itself and then some of that will be staff training and a clear and finalized safety operations policy,” he said.
The facility will not provide substances for use, but instead offer a relatively safe place for drug users to consume their own supply with medical supervision. Staffing at the site will include two nurses, two support workers and one supervisor.
The site will operate under a class exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act, granted by Health Canada for urgent public health needs.
The site will also be opening in phases, starting with hours of 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday to Friday and open to those age 19 or older. In the initial phase users will be able to use drugs through injection, oral intake or insufflation, also known as snorting.
While inhalation is the most common form of consumption in the Yukon, the site will not be initially set up to accommodate smoking due to ventilation requirements. Grandy said that will be implemented at a later date.
“The building has to have some very specific infrastructure in place to allow for inhalation,” he said.
Since 2016, 47 people have died due to illegal opioid use, with 83 per cent of those deaths involving fentanyl. A further 10 people have died as a result of non-opioid drug overdoses during that time period.
On Aug. 31 community partners, including Blood Ties Four Directions Centre, marked Overdose Awareness Day in Lepage Park.
“What I think is really important today is it’s an event where we can honor and remember those that we’ve lost to overdose, and also take that as a call to action to end overdose,” said Blood Ties executive director Brontë Renwick-Shields.
“Overdose is a preventable death. It’s very important that we come together today to acknowledge folks that we’ve lost and work towards a better future for and to prevent more deaths in the Yukon and internationally.”
Renwick-Shields said the stigma of addiction and drug use can lead to people using alone or not seeking help – and that sense of shame can be fatal.
“We have to come together as a community to say, ‘Hey, we’re here to support you.’”
Blood Ties staff were training attendees on using naloxone, an injectable medicine that can be used by anyone as a first aid to help stop an overdose.
Renwick-Shields said Blood Ties has worked with the government on the supervised consumption site, and said the delay is not a concern because the site needs to be operating properly for clients. She also said that the site is one part of responding to the opioid crisis, and achieving a safe supply is a second target the government needs to implement.
NDP MLA Emily Tredger said despite not hitting the deadline within the CASA agreement, her party is confident that the supervised consumption site is on track.
“There’s been obvious progress towards it. I think that’s the important thing. It’s a complicated project and I think we all want it done right,” she said.
“I think this is a step, not the only step, but it’s a step. I’ve been talking to lots of residents about the downtown residents who are excited about it and really wanted to make sure it’s done well and done in a way that is safer for the people who are using drugs and also safe for the neighbors,” she said.
Two public information sessions were held in the evening on Aug. 31, attended by Grandy, Renwick-Shields, Chief Coroner Heather Jones and Tredger, in addition to a number of downtown residents and community members.
During the session, multiple individuals were concerned about the hours of the centre, tracking impacts on residences nearby the site and a lack of consultation before the project moves ahead.
Others noted that disruptions in the neighbourhood already exist and solutions are needed to avoid losing downtown residents to overdose deaths.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org