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VCH not moving forward with stand-alone supervised consumption site in Richmond

Following two days of highly charged public hearings, Vancouver Coastal Health says it will “not be moving forward with a stand-alone supervised consumption site” in Richmond after all.

Following two days of highly charged public hearings, Vancouver Coastal Health says it will “not be moving forward with a stand-alone supervised consumption site” in Richmond after all.

The health authority says in a statement to CityNews that “based on the latest Public Health data,” such a site “is not the most appropriate service for those at risk of overdose in Richmond.”

“Stand-alone sites work best in communities where there is a significant concentration of people at-risk, since people will not travel far for these services,” VCH said Wednesday.

Vancouver Coastal says it will continue to work with the city to “assess how we can strengthen overdoses prevention services and keep people in the local community safe so they can access treatment.”

However, that work will no longer include moving forward with a stand-alone supervised consumption site.

On Tuesday, Richmond city council voted 7-2 in favour of exploring the possibility of establishing a site with VCH.

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The council meeting was peppered with shouting by some of the attendees, who cried out “no drugs” and “shame on you,” while several councillors rebuked their behaviour.

The rise in toxic drug deaths in B.C. in recent years was also referred to by many speakers as proof that supervised consumption sites are not helpful.

But experts say the two statistics cannot be conflated. Out of the more than 2,500 people who were killed by toxic drugs in 2023, only one death was recorded at a supervised consumption site.

According to VCH, “public Health data indicates there are more than 1,000 people with opioid use disorder in Richmond, and a smaller number (about 600) with stimulant use disorder.”

“The Richmond Local Health Area (LHA) has a comparatively low rate of drug toxicity deaths, and the numbers are slowly coming down. However, each death represents a profound loss of a young life, and unimaginable grief for family and friends,” the health authority explained in its email.

“When assessing model of care, the first step is to analyze public health data, including information on where deaths have occurred as well as where we understand those at-risk live and are likely to access these services.”

Richmond South Centre MLA Henry Yao says in a statement that “the BC NDP believes that harm reduction saves lives and improves community safety.” However, he adds services need to “fit each community.”

“The doctors and leaders at Vancouver Coastal Health Authority have examined it and have said that this approach is not right for Richmond,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

“Although this proposal from Richmond was put forward without consultation with the provincial government, we appreciate the interest that city council has shown in helping support people living with addictions, and for their support of measures to reduce overdoses. We will continue to work with the City to save lives and help those who need it, including by expanding access to drug treatment.”

-With files from Pippa Norman and Charlie Carey

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