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Edmonton Police Service offers conditional support of safe injection sites

WATCH ABOVE: Supervised injection sites are coming to Edmonton, but police say they must do more than offer a safe place to do drugs. As Fletcher Kent explains, the EPS wants support services offered as well.

The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) came out in support of a proposal to introduce safe injection sites to Alberta’s capital but with a caveat: its support is on the condition the sites are part of a holistic approach to addressing drug addiction.

“We believe there is a requirement for support services that are immediately available to drug addicts,” Supt. David Veitch, with EPS’ Coordinated Policing Division, said at a news conference Friday. “We see that those wraparound services and the supports at the locations where these individuals come to are very important to moving them forward.

“We’ve been talking for probably the last two to three years on a proposal for a community wellness centre. We envision that those services will be present in one location.”

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Earlier this month, the city’s Community and Public Services Committee moved the process forward for Edmonton to allow drug addicts access to “medically supervised injection services.”

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READ MORE: Edmonton councillors to discuss safe-injection sites

Watch below: On Dec. 4, 2016, Julia Wong filed this report on safe injection sites being proposed for cities across the country, including Edmonton.

Safe injection sites proposed for Edmonton
Safe injection sites proposed for Edmonton

“This is our opportunity to get this right,” EPS Chief Rod Knecht said in a statement Friday. “A concerted, integrated and sustained effort is required to help drug users manage their addictions.

“Depending on how it’s set up or how it’s orchestrated, if you set up an injection site where users will congregate and go there and once they’ve injected, have no place to go – have no home to go to – they just merely hang around the area and then they’re waiting for their next fix,” Det. Guy Pilon, with EPS’ Edmonton Drug and Gang Enforcement Unit, said. “So what happens is they need to get some cash one way or another, so there’s evidence that they do crimes, they’ll do shoplifting, in order to generate some cash.

“Once that’s generated, they can then acquire more drugs and it becomes virtually an endless loop where they’re there with no real way out. There has to be something more in place than just a place for them to go and inject drugs and use needles.”

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The City of Edmonton is currently considering the opening of up to four safe injection sites for intravenous drug users. On Dec. 5, a city committee decided to ask city administrators to come up with a plan for how to go about developing a safe injection site plan and to properly consult the public. There is no firm date for when city administrators need to report back to the committee.

READ MORE: Is Edmonton ready for safe-injection service? Local group thinks so

Watch Below: Street Works’ needle exchange program handed out nearly 2 million needles between April 2015 and March 2016. As Vinesh Pratap found out in this April 2016 report, there’s a push to add more tools in the harm prevention strategy here.

Safe injection service ‘long overdue’ in Edmonton
Safe injection service ‘long overdue’ in Edmonton

The EPS’ statement said while it supports harm reduction strategies with respect to the growing drug problem in the city, it doesn’t think safe injection sites alone can work unless supports like medical assistance, food, shelter and mental health and addiction counselling services are also available, on-site.

“At some point, there’s that moment where they say, ‘I just want to quit doing this,’ right? Veitch said. “And then the services are there.”

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READ MORE: Feds update anti-drug strategy, making it easier to open safe injection sites

Police also emphasized the importance of properly researching where safe injection sites are placed and whether they will have an effect on crime in the community.

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“Supporters for supervised injection sites speak of reductions in overdose deaths and other harm reduction, but what impact does the open drug use in adjacent streets – the filth and offensive graffiti and squalor proximal to the facility – have on the community?” Knecht asked on Friday. “We need to consider this as well, to ensure public safety.”

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