Sunshine House has opened Manitoba's first formal drug overdose prevention site in downtown Winnipeg and is seeing an excellent turnout.
Widely known as a community drop-in and resource centre, Sunshine House develops programs that offer at-risk people services that are not usually readily available to them.
"We work a lot with folks who have experience or are experiencing homelessness, people who have experience with substance use and, of course, people who are over-represented in all sorts of different ways and underserviced in all sorts of ways," says the executive director of Sunshine House, Levi Foy.
The launch of the one-year pilot project was on Friday, October 28 and it is the first formal overdose prevention site that Manitoba has seen. Sunshine House has also focused on reducing harm, especially with blood-borne infections such as HIV/AIDS, and by creating a site with clean equipment they are working in harmony with its goal.
"We recognized, and we collaborated with the community and did some consultations, that there was a real gap in these types of services, they don't exist. They hadn't existed in Manitoba and so we opened up the mobile overdose prevention site in collaboration with those people and using data that shows that mobile overdose prevention sites are a net positive for communities where they exist."
While the overdose prevention site offers the opportunity for safe and clean usage of drugs and a way of connecting with at-risk people, Foy says that it does not offer the same utilities as a supervised prevention site. A supervised site offers clinical services, more specialized practitioners who can suggest immediate referrals if someone were wanting to quit drug usage and medical personnel to better care for wounds, and blood testing for STIs.
On the other hand, overdose prevention sights are peer-based, with people from the community helping others from their community. Some medical services are offered, but Foy says it does not hold the same intensity as a supervised site would.
Around 30-40 people showed up to the mobile site on opening day, with the most people on site reported on Tuesday with a turnout of 80 people. Foy says that not all visitors come to the site to use substances, but to use the other services offered, such as drug testing, and to simply scope out the mobile site.
It is estimated that each day the mobile prevention site will see approximately 25-30 people daily.
With funding from Health Canada through the substance use and addiction program, Sunshine House was able to gather the stepping stones to create the overdose prevention site.
"We required some evidence to support the need for something like this and the need needed to be more than 'oh well, Winnipeg is the only one that doesn't have on. Because everybody else has one, we should have one.' It was a really articulated need that was done through lots of community consultations, through different reports that we had published, or that we had gathered, and working collaboratively with other service providers in the sector to get some information about what the need was. We also had to demonstrate the need that current services and current types of service providers weren't adequately addressing what we were seeing on the ground."
Foy says that if the pilot project is deemed as a net positive is opens up the opportunity to expand the initiative, such as stay open until later hours, help other community organizations establish prevention sites, or open more sophisticated and more permanent sites.
"The overdose prevention site shouldn't be the goal. The overdose prevention site should be either a first step or a secondary complementary piece to a very comprehensive harm reduction model of working with people who use drugs."
The mobile prevention site can be found in a parking lot at 613 Main Street.
For more information about supervised overdose prevention sites, visit safersites.ca.