FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — Overdose prevention services are looking a little different in Northeast BC, with the closure of an OPS site in the Nawican Friendship Centre in Dawson Creek and the loss of an OPS van in Fort St. John last fall due to vandalism.
“We will continue to engage with the community and the neighbouring establishments as we begin offering services,” wrote Northern Health Chief Operating Officer Angela De Smit in a May 29th, 2023, letter to the District of Hudson’s Hope.
Services to be offered include life skills support, healthcare and treatment referrals, mental health and addictions support, Overdose Prevention Services (OPS), and primary health services.
Northern Health confirmed that they’re operating another fleet vehicle and using a tent for safe inhalation in the meantime.
Southbound, OPS is looking similar in Dawson Creek, with a van being operated for mobile services, seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Dawson Creek Mayor Darcy Dober says there has been some confusion over whether there would be a second site operating in the city, which he says is not the case — the first site was simply being moved from the Nawican Friendship Centre.
Plans were potentially being made to set up by the hospital, but Dober has yet to see anything official, as the matter is part of Northern Health’s portfolio, not the city’s.
“We didn’t want it downtown, we felt it was better by the hospital because that’s where all the professionals are,” Dober said.
Northern Health confirmed that work is being done to secure a temporary structure for OPS on the Dawson Creek and District Hospital grounds, but an opening date has yet to be released.
Another OPS was operating through the Society for Narcotic and Opioid Wellness (SNOW) at their 103rd Avenue location but closed last summer following a fire and complaints from residents.
There are no plans to reopen, confirmed SNOW peer lead Lyric Paddison, noting they no longer have the support of the community, shuttering their doors on May 24th.
Pivot Legal Society lawyer Caitlin Shane had been contacted by SNOW over the legality of their site and cautioned that municipalities should be mindful of the 2016 ministerial order, which gives health authorities the ability to create OPS as needed – superseding the wishes of local governments.
“The key factor is that it’s based on need – not based on whether a city wants it or not. If there is an ascertainable need in a community, there must be an overdose prevention site there,” said Shane in July 2022. “There are absolutely powers that the health authority has to effectively serve this order however they deem necessary.”
The BC Coroners Service says more than 1,200 deaths were attributed to toxic drugs in the first six months of this year, with the highest rates of death being in Northeast BC.