An overdose prevention site pilot project that operated in Nelson for four days earlier this month will return for another four days in June.
ANKORS ran the site in the parking lot of its 101 Baker St. location from May 22 to 25. Fourteen people used the service a total of 40 times during that time span, in which there were no overdoses.
The project, which is endorsed but not funded by the Interior Health Authority, was made public Tuesday during a meeting of the Nelson Fentanyl Task Force.
Chief Paul Burkart said the site also has the support of the Nelson Police Department.
“When (ANKORS) first came to me, I had a shocked look on my face, the same that most people do,” said Burkart. “But when I looked into it, it just made sense.
“We’re dealing with the people who are already downtown, the site is downtown, the people are coming from mere blocks away from the site itself. If they weren’t doing the drugs there, they are doing it behind your business or in the bathroom of the restaurant you and your kids are in. Or they are doing it in the park nearby. So they are here and they are doing it. We’re just giving them a place to do it.”
Ten volunteers worked two shifts a day, with one paramedic or nurse onsite at all times. One volunteer also stayed overnight at the location as a security measure.
Alex Sherstobitoff, the Rise Up Community Engagement project co-ordinator at ANKORS, said the organization decided to move forward with the site after an overdose death two months ago he described as the final straw.
“People die here,” he said. “I’ve worked in this field for 18 years here in the Kootenays and I can’t count how many people who have died from overdose and in particular over the last few years. Then when you hear about somebody who is 20 years old … it just kills me. We need to do something more about this.”
Unlike safe injection sites such as Vancouver’s Insite, overdose prevention sites like the one in Nelson aren’t permanent. There are 27 such locations in B.C., including ones in Kelowna and Kamloops.
Burkart said he initially sought out advice from police in Victoria where overdose prevention sites exist.
“The first word out of the inspector’s mouth was fantastic,” said Burkart. “He talked about his four sites that they have down there. They didn’t do a lot of the things that people were worried about, that they would attract crime, a bunch of drug addicts sitting around in their community, that there would be overdoses happening outside. None of that happened. There wasn’t drug dealing going on outside these places.”
It’s unclear how long ANKORS will continue with the project.
Currently the site is scheduled to re-open June 26 to 30. Sherstobitoff said the ANKORS will require core funding to ensure it continues. An estimated $60,000 to $100,000 is needed to run the site per year, according to ANKORS executive director Cheryl Dowden.
Burkart, however, said he expects the site will be in Nelson for the foreseeable future.
“The bottom line is hopefully in the future once these other measures, treatment and education, go on we might not need these overdose prevention sites. But the reality is we do now.”