Health officials say a new location has been found for a permanent overdose prevention and supervised drug site in Fort St. John.
In a letter going before Fort St. John city councillors next week, Northern Health COO Angela De Smit says a long-term lease has been signed for 10067-100 Avenue.
The building is currently being used as a warming centre for the city’s vulnerable population, a place to go during the day to warm up, grab food, wash up, or rest.
In her letter, De Smit acknowledged the importance of the program for the community, noting the health authority has "spoken with the building landlord regarding the program being able to be offered out of the space" as it seeks proposals for building improvements planned next year.
“We are planning to commence substantial tenant improvement to the building in order to provide wraparound harm reduction services including a safe inhalation space,” De Smit writes. "Due to the length of time for the tenant improvement RFP process to be completed, we are not expecting to commence the tenant improvements until the late spring or early summer of 2023."
Northern Health had previously sought to open such a site on 102 Avenue, however, a permitting application was pulled earlier this year.
De Smit says the Northern Health region has the highest rate of toxic drug deaths in the province. According to the latest data from the BC Coroners Service, that rate is 56 deaths per 100,000 people.
In the northeast, that rate drops to 34.4 deaths per 100,000, and there have been at least 21 deaths so far reported in 2022.
De Smit says "strategies to mitigate substance use harms and unnecessary deaths is an urgent priority" for Northern Health, and that the province has ordered health authorities to provide and support overdose prevention services in communities.
“The provincial direction recognizes that there are many organizations that are well placed to implement OPS,” De Smit says.
“In FSJ, the decision has been made for NH to run the OPS program often offering extended hours, with flexible outreach opportunities, and providing low barrier service provision that individuals may feel safer accessing.”
De Smit says a stakeholder engagement plan will work neighbouring businesses and property owners, as well as community agencies, “to best inform the breadth and depth of wraparound services and programming that a new health centre facility will provide.”
“A unique aspect of this upcoming engagement process is that it is designed to be in place beyond the start up of the project and will continue for a period during full operation as a open conduit for dialogue.”
Northern Health - Overdose Prevention Services in Fort St. John by AlaskaHighwayNews on Scribd