Interior Health says “nothing is off the table” when it comes to the location of a planned overdose prevention site in Vernon.
The health authority was responding to a suggestion from the city’s chamber of commerce that the service should be located at or near Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
The chamber released a statement last week making it clear it does not want to see the overdose prevention site, which would allow for supervised drug use, placed downtown.
“There is a strong level of compassion among business owners and they want individuals to be able to access the help they need, but they are also seeking assurances that their businesses and customers will not be negatively impacted by an (overdose prevention site),” Greater Vernon Chamber president Diana Wilson wrote.
The health authority said it is in the midst of gathering feedback and is “taking all of the suggestions.”
“We don’t have a decision yet on where the location is going to be. It needs to be close to the people who are going to access the service, but we really do want to balance the needs of the community and of the business owners,” said Colleen McEwan, the health authority’s administrator for mental health and substance use for the north Okanagan.
The chamber argues the walk from downtown is a short one and being at VJH would provide easy access to medical services and first responders.
WATCH: (Jan. 22, 2019) Possible overdose prevention site for Vernon
Whether it’s eventually located at the hospital or somewhere else, Interior Health is clear it is moving forward with plans for an overdose prevention site in Vernon at a fixed location.
“There has been a lot of research on overdose prevention sites and it shows that they do save lives. That’s the most important thing we are looking at,” McEwan said.
“We are going to use this as a opportunity to link people with services.”
This year already, at least six people in Vernon have fatally overdosed after using illegal drugs.
“We are really hoping to do this as quickly as possible, because every week we don’t do it we are having a service that is really integral to the community being held back,” McEwan said.
The health authority expects it will be several months before an overdose prevention site is operating in Vernon.
At the end of March, the health authority issued a request for proposals inviting outside groups to bid to operate the Vernon overdose prevention site.
A new request for proposals is now expected to be issued in the coming weeks.