Bars, pubs similar to supervised consumption sites: Vancouver drug-user advocate

A Vancouver advocate says pubs, bars and restaurants selling alcohol are a form of supervised drug consumption site. Guy Felicella is making this comparison in the the hopes of underscoring the need for safe drug supply. Ria Renouf reports.


VANCOUVER (CityNews) — A harm reduction and recovery advocate says he’s trying to destigmatize the negative perception of supervised consumption sites by comparing those spaces to bars, pubs, and restaurants.

Guy Felicella is a peer clinical advisor at the BC Centre on Substance Abuse and says when you take the time to really think about it, there isn’t all that much of a difference.

“Supervised consumption sites…you know, North America’s first site was in 2003. When you actually really look at it, they’ve existed for over 100 years. And people have been using them every day in their daily walks of lives, when you go into a bar, into a tavern or a pub.”


The latest statistics on toxic drug deaths in B.C. are from the month of July, where a record-breaking six people died each day. More than 1,200 people in B.C. have died from the poisoned illicit supply since January.

The comparison Felicella posted to Twitter includes two side-by-side photos of a bar and a supervised consumption site. He says he wanted people to know how unfair it is to judge those who use these sites to ensure they stay safe while they use their drug of choice.

“When you go into a bar or a tavern or a pub, you’re actually consuming a safe regulated supply of drugs: alcohol. And for the other part, people are pointing fingers at supervised consumption sites when people go there to use their illicit drugs,” he wrote.

Another similarity Felicella notes is that the people working at both places might be familiar with their clientele, and those relationships can help people feel secure.

“At the supervised consumption site, obviously with the poisoned drug supply, the way it is today, it’s a vital part of services for people who use drugs. When they go there, it’s the same people. In my journey in using those sites for many years, I describe it as a welcoming environment, kind of like the theme song from Cheers.”

‘It’s totally not wrong’: expert

Dr. Stan Floresco is with UBC’s Department of Psychology and says Felicella’s argument has merit.

“My first thoughts are it’s not totally wrong. I think it’s on-point, to a general degree. When you think about alcohol service in British Columbia, you have to have Serving It Right, you have to be trained, there is regulation – at least on the books – about how much you can serve an individual when they’re visibly intoxicated.”

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When it comes to stigma about illicit drug users, Floresco says it comes down to societal perceptions of substances in question.

“It’s quite difficult, actually, to get alcohol poisoning and die from [consuming] alcohol, because most people pass out before they reach those high levels of consumption. Whereas drugs, opioid-related drugs, it’s a lot more likely that someone will hit an overdose and that it might be fatal in that regard…A lot of people drink alcohol, but only a percentage only make that transition to addiction. A greater proportion of people who take drugs will make that transition from recreational use to habitual addicted use.”

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Another part of the stigma equation is a lack of empathy for those who tend to use supervised consumption sites to consume drugs like heroin or cocaine.

“Even though an individual may have started taking the drugs on their own volition, over time, these drugs change the brain in such a way that it becomes difficult to break. So, I think helping people understand that, that it is something abnormal with brain circuitry and brain chemistry that has altered these individuals.”

In the end, Felicella says clean supply, some perspective – and some kindness – will go a long way.

“You’re still using drugs. Drug users are drug users, and you either use them or you don’t. And either is fine. But you shouldn’t be pointing fingers at people who use drugs, especially if you’re a drug user yourself.”

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