The first supervised consumption site in the North officially opened to clients on Sept. 29.
“This is an extremely important step as we move forward to end the overdose crisis,” said Blood Ties Four Directions executive director Brontë Renwick-Shields, during a tour inside the facility for media that took place ahead of a public open house on Sept. 27.
“The goal of the site is not only supervised consumption, but also to provide individuals with an access point for health, housing, and wellness support. This site represents action that Blood Ties, individuals, people who use drugs and their family members and loved ones have been advocating for, for years,” she said.
The site at 6189-6th Avenue includes five individual booths for people to use drugs, in addition to a waiting room-like social area and medical supplies, including naloxone kits and clean syringes.
In the future, a room will also be converted to allow for ventilated smoking, with a window to monitor use.
The facility will not provide substances for use, but is a relatively safe location for people to use drugs while being supervised by medical professionals in order to avoid fatal overdoses. Substances can also be tested for contaminants.
“I’m very happy to be here today with our partners and to emphasize how important it is that harm reduction proceeds in Canada. Our harm reduction sites save lives,” said McPhee.
“Right now our neighbours or friends or family members are dying, right here, downtown, in our homes and in our streets. People are dying. We’ve lost 14 people just this year to the opioid crisis. These are members of our community who are dearly loved and will be dearly missed. And we have the chance to do something about it,” added Emily Tredger.
The site was meant to open at the end of August, but delayed due to renovations and staffing levels.
Cameron Grandy, acting director of mental wellness and substance use services, said they have now hired a team leader and supervisor for the site, and it will run on reduced capacity as more support workers are brought on.
When the supervised consumption site opens, it will be able to serve two or three clients at a time initially. Renwick-Shields said that capacity will increase to five to six clients within the coming weeks.
Right now the hours will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In the initial phase, users will only be able to administer their drugs through injection, oral intake or insufflation (also known as snorting). Inhalation, however, is the most common form of consumption in the Yukon, but the site is not yet set up to accommodate smoking due to ventilation requirements.
The site will operate under a class exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act, granted by Health Canada in September 2020 for urgent public health need sites.
Tredger said that the site opening is a first step in helping reduce overdose deaths in the territory. The next step is creating a safe supply program — providing a legal and regulated supply of drugs to people who require them in order to avoid toxic and unpredictable black market drugs.
“It is something that requires a lot of work and a lot of detail,” said McPhee. “I think our agreement involves a date in a few months, and we’re working towards that.”
For now, the supervised consumption site does not provide drugs. Whitehorse also has a referred care clinic that offers opioid agonist therapy, which uses drugs such as methadone to prevent withdrawal and reduce cravings for opioid drugs.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org