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P.E.I. Greens want to know when province will open overdose prevention site

Supervised consumption sites like this one in Calgary have been proven to save lives among people with addictions, advocates say. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Supervised consumption sites like this one in Calgary have been proven to save lives among people with addictions, advocates say. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The P.E.I. Green Party is pressing government for answers about when it will open an overdose prevention site, with one MLA saying she's disappointed overdose prevention wasn't a bigger priority in the province's budget.

Karla Bernard raised the issue in the P.E.I. Legislature Friday.

She said the number of accidental opioid overdoses and overdose deaths are on the rise. According to provincial data, the number of accidental opioid-related overdoses jumped from five in 2019, to 36 in 2022.

The number of opioid-related deaths has increased each year as well, but final numbers for 2022 have not yet been made available.

"These are not data points, these are friends and loved ones who are falling through the cracks due to a lack of health care. The provincial budget tabled yesterday makes no mention of new or expanded addiction services in P.E.I." Bernard said.

The budget also fails to mention anything about the opening of an overdose prevention site, she said.

"The government won't tell us the location of the overdose prevention site. It wouldn't even mention it in its budget address, which is a list of this government's priorities for the fiscal year," said Bernard.

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

"Why should anyone believe an overdose prevention site is a priority for this government?"

Location up in the air 

The province had plans in place to set up and open an overdose prevention site at 33 Belmont St. in Charlottetown by this spring. It would be a place where people 18 and older can use drugs in a safe, supervised environment and have the ability to test their drugs for substances like fentanyl.

PEERS Alliance has been contracted to operate the site.

But after a number of public meetings with neighbours in the area, the government decided against that plan. During the spring election campaign, Premier Dennis King said he agreed with neighbours of 33 Belmont St. that it was "not the right place" for the supervised injection site.

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

Responding to questions in the legislature, Health Minister Mark McLane said he agrees with Bernard that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed quickly.

"It actually very much is a top priority for our department, we know the importance of it. It reduces public substance use, discarded needles. It's been proven to protect people from harm," he said.

McLane said the province does have some phone-based support options like the National Overdose Response Unit phone line and Brave App. He said there are also needle exchange programs where people can pick up fentanyl testing strips to test their drugs.

Bernard said that's not enough.

No timeline for opening

Speaking with reporters, McLane did not give any details about where a new location for the overdose prevention site will be, or a timeline for when it will open.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness said staff are actively working to find a new location.

McLane said the goal is to be within a 20-30 minute walk of other social services like the Outreach Centre and shelters.

"You have to be close to the clients that use the OPS service," he said. "It's important to be where the clients are so they can access those services and the wrap around services, as well."

He said further public consultations will need to happen and the province is focus on educating people about the need for this service and the benefits it will have for the entire community.