A city councillor is pushing to have a space in Richmond where people can use drugs safely.
A motion from Coun. Kash Heed will go to next Monday’s committee meeting asking to look into opening a safe-consumption site, where drug users can use drugs under the supervision of staff. Not only can on-site staff administer overdose-reversing naloxone, safe-consumption sites provide a place for drug users to connect to other services, Heed noted.
“This can save lives and provide an opportunity for individuals to seek further treatment and support,” he explained in his rationale for the motion.
“Public drug policies should not push drug users into unsafe areas such as alleys and hidden alcoves, instead they should establish safe places to consume drugs,” he added.
Heed is proposing the safe-consumption site would be near Richmond Hospital.
In 2023, 26 people died in Richmond of suspected drug poisonings, according to the BC Coroners Service.
A map from Richmond Fire-Rescue showed firefighters responded to half a dozen overdoses and drug poisomings in city centre in November. But it also showed they were occurring across Richmond from Steveston to Hamilton.
During the last municipal election, Coun. Chak Au’s political slate, the Richmond Community Coalition (RCC) took a “principled” stand against safe-injection sites.
RCC said certain candidates running in the 2022 municipal election seemed “to advocate for Richmond taxpayers’ money to fund injection site facilities,” and questioned whether they had a “hidden agenda” to “impose” safe-injection sites in Richmond “without consultation or accountability to Richmond residents and businesses.”
The death rate from drug poisonings in B.C. last year was the highest ever since a public health emergency was declared almost eight years ago with 2,511 deaths.
Heed explained that safe-consumption sites are “part of a continuum of care” which recognizes the “inherent dignity and worth of individuals struggling with drug addiction.”
“They provide a non-judgmental and supportive environment, offering a compassionate response to a complex health issue. These sites aim to reduce stigma and discrimination, promoting the well-being of individuals,” he added.
Squamish, with a population about one-tenth of that of Richmond, established a safe-consumption site in 2019. On-site staff are now seeing 90 visits per day, - although this isn't 90 unique visitors - and are reversing 10 overdoses a month.
About 30 medical incidents per month require a visit from paramedics or firefighters at the Helping Hands overdose prevention site.
The committee meeting where a safe-consumption site will most likely be discussed is on Monday, Feb. 5 at 4 p.m. although it has yet to be added to the agenda.
- With files from the Squamish Chief