What is an overdose prevention site?
An overdose prevention site (OPS) is a designated space for people to use substances where witnessed consumption is provided by trained staff and/or peers who can respond in the event of an overdose. Overdose prevention sites also provide harm reduction supplies such as sterile injection equipment, education, overdose prevention and intervention, and referrals to community resources.
Overdose prevention sites support a person's access to equitable health services in the community. There has been evidence found that these types of services benefit the health outcomes for people using substances as well as the community around them. The main goals of these services are to:
- prevent overdose-related deaths and save lives;
- provide access to sterile harm reduction supplies;
- provide connections to primary-care services;
- provide education on overdose prevention; and
- offer a source of connection with peers.
The BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre mobile OPS is a six-month pilot project, starting on March 16, 2023. This service is funded by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and BC Women's with services delivered by the PHS Community Services Society. The van and tent will have capacity for six clients at a time and are located near the Brock Fahrni Pavilion. It will be open from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day and available as a free and confidential service for BC Women's patients, partners and family members.
Clients arrive with their own substances. The OPS-trained staff (community mental health worker and peers) will provide them with education on safer substance use practices and/or harm reduction supplies. When the client is using their substances, staff will monitor and respond to a medical emergency, if necessary. After use, staff will help to safely dispose of any used supplies and monitor the client for any signs of overdose. In the event of an overdose, staff will provide immediate emergency response to reduce potential risks of overdose and overdose deaths, including calling 911 and administering naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids.
This service is aimed to help prevent patients from leaving BC Women's units to use substances in unsafe environments at a time when an increasingly unpredictable and toxic drug supply is taking thousands of lives in B.C. each year. Women can experience significant barriers to accessing overdose prevention services which can lead to them using alone, hiding substance use and using in unsafe environments. This increases their risk of harm and death from the illicit toxic drug supply.
Yes, a Raincity-operated OPS opened on the St. Paul's Hospital campus in 2018. In 2021, when the Raincity OPS moved locations, Providence Health began directly operating an OPS inside the hospital and, since then, staff have successfully reversed a total of 167 overdoses. No one has been admitted to a higher level of care and no one died.
According to the BC Coroners Service, illicit drug toxicity deaths have increased more than eight-fold in the past 10 years. Approximately 22 per cent of the 2,272 deaths last year were women. First Nations' people are dying at five times the rate of other British Columbians, with Indigenous women dying at nearly 10 times the rate of other B.C. women (2019 report, Dr. Bonnie Henry).
Overdose prevention services have shown to help communities by:
- reducing risks of overdose and overdose deaths;
- increasing accessibility to services for communities in need (with the mobile nature of the OPS);
- preventing transmission of infectious disease such as HIV and hepatitis C;
- reducing the number of publicly discarded syringes;
- decreasing public consumption of substances;
- providing education on safer injection/consumption practices (e.g., syringe sharing);
- increasing access and referrals to health and social services; and
- improving the health and well-being of people who use drugs.
Staff working in the OPS take a person-centred approach to supporting clients with connections to community substance use programs and services. If a client wants to be connected to detox or bed-based substance use treatment, the team will support this referral.
We understand there is a role for harm reduction services for youth, but we must first work with partners, youth and their supporters to understand the logistics, challenges and risks before supporting that population with this service.
PHS staff will call 911 and follow OPS protocol including the provision of oxygen and naloxone. OPS clients will not be directed to the hospital, however, if anyone arrives at the hospital in need of help, physicians and staff will treat them as any other patient and provide the necessary health-care services or treatment.
Site security will do their usual sweeps of area, but they are not to remain at the OPS. The vans are equipped with multiple cameras for security and OPS staff are highly trained in de-escalation tactics.
The OPS staff will do a sweep at the end of the day and make sure they leave the area as they find it.
The OPS team is highly skilled and trained to deal with any concerns that may arise at the OPS site on a case-by-case basis. We are committed to being a respectful neighbour and responding to campus concerns, while working with our partners (City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department) to address issues as they arise.
Witnessed consumption services such as those offered at OPS have been shown to improve community safety by reducing public drug use, public overdoses and drug-related litter without increasing crime or violence.
This is a six-month trial, after which time, VCH will determine the future location of this mobile service. This will be based on several factors including service uptake at BC Women's, substance use service needs across other Vancouver communities, among others.
VCH funds a range of harm reduction sites across Vancouver. To find your nearest overdose prevention site, visit the VCH website. All services are free and open to all members of the public.