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Ottawa slacking on removing injection site red tape: critics

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott and BC Health Minister Terry Lake met in Vancouver to discuss the ongoing opioid overdose crisis (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS1130 Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – The federal health minister says she wants to get rid of barriers to open injection sites to help combat the ongoing rise in opioid overdoses, but critics say she’s dragging her feet.

Jane Philpott was in Vancouver Wednesday meeting with her BC counterpart Terry Lake to discuss what the provincial government has declared a health crisis of overdoses, many of which are related to the powerful painkiller Fentanyl.

“I will be a strong advocate at the federal level to make sure we appropriately respond,” Philpott says. “Supervised consumption sites are one of the essential tools in a comprehensive response to the crisis of opioid overdoses.”

The minister says she wants to remove “unnecessary barriers” to opening sites in communities that want them, but stopped short of directly saying the federal Liberals would repeal legislation like Bill C-2, the Respect for Communities Act, which blocks the facilities from opening.

“It’s becoming increasingly apparent that it will require changes to that legislation and we look forward to announcing very soon what those changes will be,” Philpott says.

Critics, like retired East Vancouver Member of Parliament Libby Davies, say they don’t know what the holdup is.

“I would think as minister she has the discretion to move around (Bill C-2), at least in an interim, way until they bring in something new, but they’ve had a year to repeal that legislation,” she says. “When she said ‘oh well safe injection sites are only part of the solution’ we know that. We know it’s part of the spectrum, but what’s preventing them now from at least bringing in additional sites?”

Ottawa did provide an exception to the legislation so two injection sites could open in Vancouver, however community health advocates say the facilities are full and people are still using in alleys and doorsteps.

The province says there have been 555 illicit drug overdose deaths in BC this year and there are upwards of three overdoses per day, about half the national daily total. Canada has seen a 60 per cent increase in overdose related deaths in 2016 over last year.

Former Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users president Dean Wilson spoke with Philpott as she spoke at the Main Street Fire Hall and questioned her how the minister can claim to support drug user assistance services when places like the Drug User Resource Centre are shutting down.

Former VANDU president Dean Wilson aires his grievances to Health Minister Jane Philpott over lack of federal action to open more injection sites.

“We did the first naloxone training eight years ago. We’ve done over 1,500 trainings. They’re just getting on the bandwagon now. My goodness, we did it when it was against the law,” Wilson says. “I’m mad, I’m angry.”

Vancouver Coastal Health announced in March that funding cuts lead to the decision to close the 412 East Cordova centre at the end of the year and open a new Downtown Eastside Mental Health and Substance Use drop-in centre nearby, to be overseen by a new operator called the Lookout Emergency Aid Society.

“Addicts and mental health, yes it is a mental health and baby cancer and neonatal care (are similar), but you don’t put them together. Some things don’t mix and that is not going to mix,” Wilson says.

The pair exchanged information and Philpott said she would be in touch to discuss the matter.