Overdose prevention

Strategies to help to prevent and respond to overdoses. 

Overdose prevention sites

Overdose prevention sites are managed by health authorities in co-operation with community partners across the province. These designated spaces, which are integrated into existing social service or health care settings or in newly established locations, provide on-site monitoring for people at risk of overdose and allow for rapid response when an overdose occurs. While supervised consumption services require municipalities to seek an exemption from federal drug laws, the same process is not required to establish an overdose prevention site.

Overdose prevention services are uniquely positioned as a low-barrier point of introduction to health and/or social services for people with substance use issues. Each site provides various levels of services, including overdose prevention education and Take Home Naloxone  training and distribution. Some sites may also distribute harm reduction supplies (such as sterile needles, filters, cookers, condoms, etc.) offer safe disposal options, and facilitate referrals to mental health and substance use services. Currently, each British Columbia overdose prevention site offers drug-checking services.

Supervised consumption services

Supervised consumption services provide clean, safe environments where people can use substances under the supervision of trained staff without the risk of arrest for drug possession. These sites help reduce the transmission of disease, reduce fatal overdoses, and help connect people to health care services, including treatment.

Complementary health services

Supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites offer a wide range of complementary health services including:

  • Distribution of supplies for safer injection
  • Education on safe injection technique and infection prevention
  • Overdose prevention and intervention
  • Medical and counselling services
  • Referrals to substance use treatment
  • Connection to housing and other support services
  • Drug-checking

Island Health

Interior Health

Fraser Health

Vancouver Coastal Health

Drug checking

Currently, fentanyl test strips are provided in all supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites in B.C. The test strips, originally developed to check urine for drugs, test for the presence of fentanyl in illegal substances. To check their drugs, people who use substances dilute their substances with a few drops of water and the test strip will indicate a positive or negative result for fentanyl within seconds. This method has recently been discovered effective in detecting several other fentanyl analogues, including carfentanil.

Another new drug-checking service is being tested in Vancouver – the first of its kind in Canada. The pilot study uses a portable drug checking machine called a Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR), and aims to determine whether greater access to drug-checking services will help prevent overdose deaths. The machine can test a range of substances, including opioids like heroin, stimulants like cocaine and other psychoactive drugs such as MDMA, also known as ecstasy. Testing with the FTIR can identify multiple compounds at once in a matter of minutes.

Research into drug-checking can help to answer key questions about how effective and reliable these technologies could be in reducing the devastating number of overdose deaths in B.C.

Supervised consumption research

International research on supervised consumption services has found that these sites are beneficial to people who use substances as well as the surrounding community. Evidence has shown that supervised consumption services:

  • Save lives
  • Reduce sharing of needles that cause HIV and hepatitis C
  • Increase use of detox and addiction treatment services
  • Provide opportunities to connect people to health care services, housing and other supports
  • Reduce public drug use
  • Reduce the numbers of inappropriately discarded needles
  • Do not contribute to increased crime in the surrounding area