Expert calls for more safe-use spaces as province renews push to restrict public drug use

As the province makes a renewed push to re-introduce restrictions on public drug use, some are calling for more support for people who use drugs.

Harm reduction expert Guy Felicella says municipalities need to create more safe supervised spaces.

“When people don’t have a place to go and use safely, the reality is that they are going to use out in the open,” he said.

This call comes now that the province is working with the federal government to restrict drug use in public spaces, including parks and hospitals.

“I get it. Nobody should be using drugs at a beach, [or] a park where families and kids are,” Felicella said.

“I agree wholeheartly with that. But what I don’t agree with is there is no place for them to go either.”

Felicella has decades of lived experience being unhoused and using unregulated drugs. Since his recovery from addiction, he’s been helping people fight theirs.

He says the province’s latest actions will put people who don’t have homes at risk.

“We may not like seeing it, but not seeing it doesn’t make it go away, and I don’t want people to struggle in isolation,” he said.

“I’ve lost far too many people to get another phone call that someone died alone. We need to do better in society.”

Last November, the province passed Bill 34 to restrict drug use in public spaces, but the BC Supreme Court has blocked the legislation, saying it goes against people’s charter rights and would cause “irreparable harm.”

A legal challenge by the Harm Reduction Nurses Association is what led to the injunction against Bill 34, and the group says the province doesn’t need federal intervention.

What B.C. needs, the group says, is more designated safe use spaces.

“We are deeply frustrated and shocked with the decision to essentially circumvent the legal challenge currently underway,” said Corey Ranger, the association’s president.

“Nurses care about their patients; nurses don’t want their patients dying and hiding their drug use, and we don’t want nurses to be exposed to smoke.”

Ranger says a first step could be implemting safe use spaces in every community that needs it.

“We can honour the ministerial order from 2016 that encouraged scaling up overdose prevention services in communities,” she said. “Everyone is impacted by the drug poisoning crisis.”

While the province is renewing its push for public drug use limitations, some city councillors from the Lower Mainland want to scrap B.C.’s drug decriminalization pilot altogether.

“The focus should be on treatment,” said Surrey Councillor Linda Annis.

“We do not have enough treatment facilities in British Columbia, and this isn’t acceptable.”

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