Yaletown OPS shuts down 2 weeks before 8th anniversary of toxic drug crisis

The Thomus Donaghy Overdose Prevention Site in Yaletown closed its doors and relocated to Howe Street. It will provide both supervised injection and inhalation services. Kate Walker reports.

After concerns about possible negative impacts on the community, the controversial Yaletown Overdose Prevention Site has closed its doors to clients for the last time.

The closure comes after Vancouver Coastal Health was informed by the City of Vancouver in July 2023 that the lease for the Thomus Donaghy OPS at 1101 Seymour Street would not be renewed. The city explained at the time the site had “proven unviable for sustained operations.”

Vancouver Coun. Peter Meiszner said last year that while he supports overdose prevention sites, the management of the Yaletown OPS wasn’t taking responsibility for what he called the “negative impacts” on the community.

“There have been issues with the queuing outside the site, camping, street disorder, cleanliness, drug paraphernalia, etcetera — as well as people in the neighbourhood not feeling safe walking by the site,” he said.

But Vince Tao, spokesperson for the Vancouver Area Network Drug Users, tells CityNews that the closure of the OPS couldn’t come at a worse time.

“I think it’s an absolute travesty that the city and the province are allowing this to happen at this critical juncture during public health emergencies,” he said Wednesday.

“We’re less than two weeks away from the eighth anniversary of the provincial announcement of the public health toxic drug poisoning emergency. We should definitely not be closing down the overdose prevention sites, we should be opening them — plain and simple.”

The site opened in 2021 after data from VCH showed Yaletown had the highest number of drug poisoning deaths outside of the Downtown Eastside.

“Amidst a toxic drug poisoning crisis, which is claiming about six to seven lives a day, we’re closing an overdose prevention site, in a part of the city — Yaletown — which [has] the second highest concentration of overdose incidence rate,” Tao said.

“People are going to die.”

OPS moves to new location in Vancouver

But Vancouver Coastal Health says it’s committed to not having any gaps in service for people who would normally visit the Yaletown OPS.

A new site opened Wednesday in a space behind a social housing complex on Howe Street that’s within the same Local Health Area, it says. Until the permanent site opens its doors Wednesday afternoon, the health authority’s mobile OPS is in place near the original Yaletown OPS to fill-in.

“The new site is accessed from Howe Street, but does not have street frontage, offering clients and residents increased privacy,” the health authority said in a statement.

“VCH is committed to being a good neighbour, working with the city, other local partners and residents to ensure the smooth operation of these health-care services.”

It adds the new centre will have security, sidewalk management, litter and needle sweeps and community outreach teams.

In a statement, Mayor Ken Sim says he’s “disappointed” the new OPS will not be located at St. Paul’s Hospital, which he believed was the “appropriate” site.

“We can confirm that the City of Vancouver was not consulted on the new location of the OPS, although we appreciate VCH has to balance many factors when selecting locations for these health services,” he stated.

“We look forward to learning more from Vancouver Coastal Health about how they plan to operate this site in a way that provides these important services while mitigating impacts on Vancouver neighbourhoods like Yaletown.”

While Tao agrees it’s positive that a new OPS will reopen in another part of the city, he believes it’s an “absurd, tremendous” waste of resources.

“In 2016, there was a ministerial writ, to open as many overdose prevention sites as possible, to open them up all over the province. And it’s been eight years, and only about 40 have been opened up, and now we’re talking about closing them because we don’t like how it works.”

“I think it’s a very bad sign of what’s to come.”

B.C. recorded an unprecedented number of deaths from toxic drugs in 2023. The BC Coroners Service said in January there were 2,511 suspected unregulated toxic drug deaths, marking “the highest number of suspected deaths ever recorded in a year.”

That figure was five per cent higher than the number of deaths recorded in 2022, which was 2,383.

Since the province declared a public health emergency in April 2016, more than 14,000 people have been killed as a result of drug toxicity, according to the Coroners Service.

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