VANCOUVER — Canada’s governor general has visited an overdose prevention site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside after meeting with first responders on the front lines of substance-use issues fuelled by the opioid fentanyl.
Julie Payette met at a fire hall with firefighters and police officers as well as various officials including the mayor, British Columbia’s lieutenant-governor and the chief medical health officer for the Vancouver Coastal Health authority.
She then walked a few blocks with them to the Molson Overdose Prevention Site, where people use their own drugs and are provided with safe injection supplies.
Coco Culbertson, senior manager of programs for the PHS Community Services Society, which runs the site, says having Canada’s governor general at the facility is incredibly meaningful.
“I think it reduces stigma having someone of her station come into the Downtown Eastside and want to see an Overdose Prevention Site. It was wonderful to have her level of engagement. She was incredibly empathetic and understandiong of how these places offer humanity and dignity to people that often don’t have a lot of agency in society.”
Payette says she’s learned that the overdose issue is complicated and will require a co-ordinated response in order to find solutions and “diminish hardship.”
“My reason to be here today is really just to highlight and thank the folks that do this every day. Human beings are complex and one way of solving a problem never works, there has to be different solutions. Some of it will have to do more with healthcare, others will have to do more with health services and mental health services in society.”
She says that before becoming governor general she was on the board of Drug Free Kids Canada, a non-profit organization helping parents prevent and deal with youth addiction.
There are about 30 overdose prevention sites in B.C., home to North America’s first supervised injection site.