August 31 is recognized as International Overdose Awareness Day. On April 14, 2016 a public health emergency was declared with the rapid rise of opioid-related overdoses and overdose deaths seen nationwide.
The alarming rate of overdoses and overdose related deaths is a huge concern, and one of the main culprits is that many users are not aware of what’s mixed in with the drugs. In 2016, there was a record of over 930 unintentional illicit drug overdose deaths in British Columbia.
In response to the health emergency, Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) opened across BC, as of December 2016. OPS provide people with a space to inject their previously obtained illicit substances with sterile equipment in a setting where OPS staff can observe and intervene should an overdose occur.
Women are among the most vulnerable, especially in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, who face unique challenges accessing health services. As a result of hearing from the community that they would feel safer and more supported when they are able to access services in women-only settings, the first women-only OPS in B.C. was launched May 2017.
BC Women’s partnered with Vancouver Coastal Health, Atira Women’s Resource Society and the City of Vancouver, to provide a safe atmosphere for some of BC’s most vulnerable women where they do not feel threatened to access life-saving services, as well as have primary care, addictions counselling and treatment available in the same setting.
“Women in the DTES who have substance use disorders often have other coexisting medical conditions which require primary care management,” says Rebecca Latimer, nurse practitioner, BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre. “SisterSpace provides a safe environment for women wishing to access preventative medical care and treatment to manage illnesses, which is paramount to the health and safety of this population.”
Since the opening of the women-only OPS (SisterSpace) there have been 1900 visits.