Drug user dies at Vancouver's supervised injection site/housing facility

Staff discovered man in bathtub around 2 a.m.

A 46-year-old chronic drug user has died in the housing facility attached to the city's supervised drug injection site on East Hastings Street.

The death occurred Sept. 14 and marks the first time someone died in the building that houses a detox centre, the injection site and temporary housing for recovering drug users.

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The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating and hasn't concluded the cause of death, although operators of the housing facility say the man had a long history of drug use.

Mark Townsend of the PHS Community Services Society, which operates the drug recovery facilities and the injection site in conjunction with Vancouver Coastal Health, said staff discovered the man in a bathtub around 2 a.m.

The previous evening, the man was playing his guitar in a lounge and decided to have a bath before going to bed, said Townsend, adding there was no evidence the man was using drugs.

The man was a regular user of the Insite injection site and recently completed detox on the second floor of the facility. He was then given a room in the housing wing on the third floor.

"The guy was well behaved, had a good plan for what he was going to do and had some hopes and dreams," Townsend said.

The Vancouver Police Department attended the scene Sept. 14 and determined the death not to be suspicious, said Const. Brian Montague, a VPD media liaison officer.

Onsite opened in 2007 as an extended service of the drug injection site, which opened in 2003. Insite is still the only legal injection site in North America and staff say they have yet to have someone die of an overdose death, despite an average of 600 injections per day.

Onsite has two floors, the first with 12 beds for detox, the second with 18 beds for people focused on preparing for a life of sobriety.

There, they receive visits from a doctor and have access to drug counselling and mental health workers. Acupuncture, yoga and meditation, along with three meals per day, are included.

When the Courier visited Onsite and Insite for a day in April 2009, the statistics then showed almost 600 people had stayed at Onsite since September 2007. More than 100 were successful in entering long-term treatment programs and housing, the staff said at the time.

In February of this year, the Courier reported the number of heroin users at the injection site requiring the use of a potentially life-saving medication to counter the effects of an overdose had steadily increased since September.

Coupled with the increased use of Narcan at Insite was the B.C. Coroners Service's investigation into 28 suspected illicit drug overdose deaths in Vancouver since September, eight of which occurred in January.

At the time of the story, staff at Insite said they noticed about a 25 per cent increase in overdose interventions over a 12-month period. An intervention can range from a nurse give a user oxygen to Narcan being used to revive a person from near death.

The Coroners Service recorded 66 drug overdose deaths in Vancouver in 2011, although some are still under investigation to determine the exact cause of death.

Last year's 66 deaths were an increase over the 44 in 2010. There were 62 in 2009, 40 in 2008 and 60 in 2007. A total of 454 people died of a drug overdose death in Vancouver between 2004 and 2011.

mhowell@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Howellings

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