FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Northern Health has partnered up with the First Nations Health Authority and local peers to provide a mobile overdose prevention service to help prevent toxic drug poisonings and deaths.
The mobile overdose prevention site is a specialized service with a custom van and insulated tent that offers supervised consumption of substances, including inhalants, as well as take-home Naloxone kits and other harm reduction supplies.
The Mobile OPS van is currently providing four hours of service, five days a week, but plans to expand its hours and locations by March 1st or earlier. Expanded hours would include service in the evenings and weekends to allow access to harm reduction supplies to those who work during the day.
By March 1, 2022, additional staffing and peer supports will allow the service to serve a second location beside the Salvation Army Shelter (99th Ave. and 98th St.), and to expand hours of operation.
Fort St. John peer outreach services have transitioned to supporting the Mobile OPS, which currently services key downtown areas early each weekday morning before parking in the FNHA lot at 10130 100 Ave. (near the “two benches” park) for four hours each weekday afternoon.
Outreach teams are also available to help connect people to other health services including mental health and substance use supports.
Director of Specialized Services for the Northeast Region of Northern Health, Donna Ward says the aim of the van is to drastically reduce the number of overdose deaths in the area.
“If we can keep people alive and have them know that we care. We’re not going to judge. We understand that it’s a medical condition. Let us help you,” Ward said.
She also hopes to target the stigma surrounding addiction.
“We’re just not going to tolerate any more stigma and shame. It’s a part of everyday people’s everyday life. People have diabetes, people have heart disease, people have problems with addiction,” Ward said.
Ward says about a year ago, Fort St. John had the highest amount of overdose deaths per capita in the Northeast region.
According to the latest B.C Coroners report, FSJ now sits at 12th in the province per capita.
“We’re heading in the right direction. I know we’ve still got lots to do and but we’re working really hard,” Ward said.
She added that the decrease in overdose deaths is due to a team effort.
“It’s a combination of everything, it’s the peers handing out harm reduction supplies. We’ve got the primary care team is handing out harm reduction [supplies] and we’ve got the intensive case management team who are out in the community doing outreach with folks who are most impacted with mental health and substance use issues,” Ward said.
She says the health authority hopes to expand addiction services in the area to include a brick and mortar site, as well as an episodical overdose prevention service.
“It’s kinda like calling for takeout. It’s anonymous. The client gives us an address. We go to them, the person does whatever they’re doing, whether they’re injecting, smoking, etc. And we just hang out and monitor for 15 minutes and then we leave,” Ward explained.
Data from the BC Coroner’s Service shows 26 people died of drug toxicity in Northeast BC in 2021. Fort St. John, like many communities in the province, is experiencing an unacceptably high number of toxic drug poisonings and toxic drug deaths due to the illicit toxic drug supply.
BC Coroner’s Service data also confirms that no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.
For more information and resources related to overdose prevention and response, please click here.
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