Pop-Up Safe Injection Site Hits Vancouver

By McCarton Ackerman 09/28/16

The small operation consists of a couple of people trained in CPR, chairs, clean needles and naloxone.

 Pop-Up Safe Injection Site Hits Vancouver

With Insite, Vancouver’s lone safe injection site, currently operating at capacity, a DIY safe injection site in the city has emerged in order to service those who simply can’t wait.

VICE reported that a “harm reduction tent” has been set up for a week now in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) founder Ann Livingston operates the tent along with Sarah Blyth. The bare-bones operation consists of a couple of people trained in CPR, chairs, clean needles and naloxone.

Livingston and Blyth service 25 to 40 people each day, handing out supplies and supervising injecting drug users. Blyth clarified that the tent “is not Insite, it’s not supposed to function as Insite.” But the pop-up is serving a critical need because Insite is so busy that it can’t respond to street-level emergencies.

Although two new safe injection sites are supposed to open next year in Vancouver, it doesn’t address the overdoses currently taking place. "When you're dealing with emergencies like this, there's no time to wait for the government bureaucracy to do its job,” Blyth told VICE.

Blyth also noted that the fentanyl now showing up in batches of heroin has resulted in overdoses that aren’t able to be treated with traditional dosages of Narcan. Overdoses are now on the rise as a result of the tainted heroin, making additional harm reduction sites a necessity.

"With heroin you would get them Narcan and some air and they're fine, but this is two, three Narcans later and they're still down,” said Blyth. "A few minutes can mean everything—they could end up in intensive care or in a way worse situation."

With Vancouver’s government likely sensing that, Blyth and Livingston say they haven’t been bothered by authorities since launching the harm reduction site. 

Insite has been operating in Downtown Vancouver since 2003, but only received the government's stamp of approval in January.  

A June 2013 study by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS showed that the number of drug users in Downtown Eastside who reported sharing needles dropped from 40% in 1996 to 1.7% in 2011. Meanwhile, those accessing methadone treatment jumped from 12% to 54% during that same period. Researchers also noted fewer hepatitis C and HIV infections related to sharing needles.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.