Overdose Prevention Sites vs. Safe Consumption Sites
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Both overdose prevention sites (OPS) and safe consumption sites (SCS) are places where individuals are able to use their own illicit substances with access to emergency medical care on site if needed.
Overdose prevention sites are in communities on a temporary basis to address an immediate need for harm reduction and are typically staffed and run by peers, volunteers or community-based health organizations. Overdose prevention sites are often used as a stepping stone to get access to safe consumption sites in a community. They are typically lower barrier or “pop up” locations. Safe consumption sites are intended to be long term support-oriented facilities that are required to have services available at the sites such as counselling, support in finding permanent housing and treatment programs.
Program Expansion Across Canada
Overdose prevention sites and safe consumption sites are becoming more widely available. The first SCS in Canada opened in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 2003 and now there are approximately 40 overdose prevention sites and another 40 safe consumption sites across Canada. Many cities across Canada are in the process of developing their own overdose prevention site or safe consumption site as the benefits of these facilities are continually being proven.
In October 2021, Alberta began consideration for new safe consumption site in Edmonton to meet the needs for harm reduction in that area. In September 2021, the first Yukon SCS opened in Whitehorse as a step towards ending the overdose crisis at hand. Plans are also underway in Ontario to open Peel Region’s first SCS. In 2021, the United States saw their first ever OPS open in New York City.
Why do we need these spaces?
Overdose prevention sites and safe consumption sites provide a safer environment for those using illicit substances.
These sites save lives. No one has ever died at either type of facility.
Here are a few key positive goals of each site:
Additionally, these sites are important because of the overdose emergency present in Canada. Statistics Canada has reported that life expectancy has stopped increasing for the first time in approximately 40 years. Overdose deaths are the primary component contributing to this fact.
Often when people are using, they are not able to determine how potent or what other substances they may contain, which can lead to accidental overdose. Increasingly, deaths caused by accidental overdose are being driven by fentanyl and other toxic synthetic opioids. These sites can help reduce these deaths by providing a monitored place for folks to use safely.
This helps keep individuals from taking substances alone, in a rushed manner, or in an unsafe environment such as outdoors or locked in a bathroom. Staff at these sites are able to respond promptly to overdoses and people can even test their substances for fentanyl and other opioids at some safe consumption sites.
While the presence of these programs are growing, there is still a need for more expansion in rural and remote areas of the country.
FIND AN OVERDOSE PREVENTION OR SAFE CONSUMPTION SITE NEAR YOU:
Government of Canada’s Interactive Map of Harm Reduction Services
Government of Canada’s List of Safe Consumption Sites by Province
Atira’s SisterSpace: The World’s First Community-Accessible Overdose Prevention Site (Vancouver)
Atira’s SisterSquare: 24/7 Overdose Prevention and Inhalation Site (Vancouver)
Atira’s Shimai Drop In: Overdose Prevention and Inhalation Site (Surrey)
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