Residents Oppose Expanding Drug Use Sites to Suburban Vancouver

British Columbia’s rampant drug deaths have more than once thrust public health officials into uncharted territory. It became the first province to decriminalize small quantities of hard drugs for personal use in 2022, about two decades after Vancouver opened the first supervised injection site in North America. But as overdoses increase in some British Columbia towns, there is disagreement in one city about how to address it.

A nurse preparing a dose of Naloxone at an overdose prevention site in Vancouver.Credit…Jackie Dives for The New York Times

In Richmond, one of British Columbia’s largest cities, with 230,000 people, municipal council chambers turned raucous this week as a full public gallery of residents opposed a plan for staff to study whether a safe consumption site for drug users would be viable in the community. The plan was adopted on Tuesday, but the effort is off to a rocky start, with few officials and agencies standing up to defend it.

More than 100 residents signed up to speak in the meeting, some tearfully, others amid shouting. The city’s mayor of 22 years, Malcolm Brodie, competed with residents for control of the room, and tensions escalated to screaming matches in the hallway, where Mounties intervened.

[Read: Canada Decriminalizes Opioids and Other Drugs in British Columbia]

Residents expressed fears that the facility would be disruptive to the community and bring about drug-related crime and disorder.

“We don’t feel safe, and I don’t want Richmond to turn into another Hastings or Chinatown,” a resident, Swimmy She, told the Council, referring to two Vancouver neighborhoods hard hit by the opioid crisis, where open drug use is pervasive.

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