A permanent drug inhalation site opens in downtown Victoria

A full-time drug inhalation site is now open in downtown Victoria as part of ongoing efforts to respond to the toxic drug crisis.

The fully enclosed inhalation site at 941 Pandora Ave. opened on Tuesday and replaced a temporary inhalation site at 926 Pandora Ave. which opened in Nov. 2021. The temporary site averaged over 700 visits a week, Island Health reported.

Island Health authorities are calling this new site one of “its kind in North America.” They also say it is part of a larger wellness and recovery model where people who use substances can also access other resources such as counselling and treatment.

“The unpredictable poisoned drug supply continues to take lives at a tragic, unacceptable rate across BC, including in Victoria,” said Jennifer Whiteside, minister of mental health and addictions.

“More than half of the people who are dying consumed toxic drugs by smoking. This indoor inhalation service is part of our government’s plan to continue increasing access to life-saving services and connecting more people to care,” Whiteside adds.

Island Health says that, by the end of October, 2,039 lives of British Columbians were lost to toxic drugs in 2023. 130 of these deaths were in Greater Victoria. 

The BC Coroners Service also reported that at least 13,000 lives have been lost to toxic, unregulated drugs since the public health crisis was declared in 2016.

The permanent location was decided upon in response to the growing number of deaths reported among people who inhale illicit drugs.

“The city’s support of this service has without a doubt saved many lives,” James Hanson, vice president of clinical services, acute care North Island and community services, said.

Island Health says in a video on their website that they want people to stay at least 20 minutes on the site because it’s “what it takes to monitor someone and ensure that the most acute period for toxic poisoning has passed.”

“There are tables so that people can sit together. We have plug-ins so folks can charge their phones while they’re here. Above each table, we have a source capture hood … which will take the majority of the smoke up when people are using it,” they add.

The new indoor inhalation service will operate at the same time as the temporary service from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. but seven days a week. It will allow up to 24 people inside the site at one time.

-With files from Srushti Gangdev

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