The locations for supervised-injection services in Edmonton were revealed Wednesday morning.
If the province receives the go-ahead from the federal government, the services will be integrated into Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Street Community Services and George Spady Society. The Royal Alexandra Hospital will also offer a supervised-injection service, but only for patients.
“It is where the people and the citizens that would use the service already exist. So we need to make sure our services are accessible to the people who would be using it,” said Shelley Williams, Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton.
The timeline to have the services up and running is within the next year. The locations are being called services rather than sites because they’re being integrated into existing locations.
The locations would be available to people with drug addictions who resort to injecting in public.
The supervised-injection locations would offer individuals a list of resources:
- Sterile injection supplies
- Education on safer injection, overdose prevention and intervention
- Medical and counselling services
- Referrals to drug treatment, housing, income support and other services
- Attention to medical needs that require an immediate response.
The services would also be intended to be an entry point for users to receive further social supports, primary health care and treatment.
Each location would be staffed with a nurse, social worker/addiction worker and peer support worker.
“I see in the correspondence that they’ve interviewed 300 addicts and so we’ve gotten that perspective and there’s some valuable information that’s come forward in that,” Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht said of the development. “We’ve heard from the drug users, I think we need to hear from the community.”
“At the end of the day, we enforce the law the way community wants us to enforce the law. We are a community police service and if this is what the community wants, obviously we’ll continue to enforce the law accordingly.”
Global News spoke to a neighbour who lives across the street from one of the proposed injection service locations. Roger Campbell said he welcomes a place where addicts can go behind doors.
“Good idea. Very good idea,” Campbell said. “Right now, there’s too much needle work on the streets, around children. Needles are left on the ground.”
Those who use the services would be required to discuss the substances they used recently and what they plan to take. Staff will watch for signs of overdose or any other issues that require immediate medical attention.
Injecting in public has been linked to an increased risk of overdose and transmission of hepatitis C and HIV, while safe places to inject have been associated with significantly reducing these risks.
“Even if they aren’t able to make a good choice for that day, we need to keep them alive so they can make a better choice on another day,” said Shannell Twan, a spokesperson with Canadian Association of People who use Drugs.
According to statistics released at Wednesday’s announcement, in 2015, there were 100 new cases of HIV and 600 new cases of hepatitis C in Edmonton, and 1,800 visits at the Royal Alexandra Hospital related to opiate and heroin poisonings in 2015.
Last year, the Alberta government announced it would seek a federal exemption to set up “medically supervised injection services,” but it’s been a topic surrounded in controversy, particularly regarding where the sites would be placed and what they would include.
“I don’t think we want to rush into this. We take an incremental approach and do it right,” Knecht said. “What I wouldn’t support is a place where you just go get your drugs, then go back out, try to find out where you can go to get money to get more illegal drugs and dangerous substances, then go to a safe injection site and shoot up again – stay on this hamster wheel year after year.”
The Canadian Association for People who use Drugs spoke out Tuesday at rallies in seven cities across the country. They want to be involved in the decision making on drug policy and they want addiction to be viewed as a health issue.
“I think the big issue is the unmet care issues – the people that are mentally ill that are homeless that are addicted and they need help,” Knecht added. “I think if we can get them to a place where they have a safe warm bed at night, some meals, proper medication – they will become productive members of the community.”
Knecht added he’s been to Vancouver, a city with supervised-injection services, and still sees open drug use and trafficking.
“The drug traffickers will go where the drug users are and that’s going to be one of our challenges and I think that’s a public safety issue for us to deal with,” he said. “So let’s get our minds around that and try to understand that – how we can keep the communities safe around these facilities… and keep the drug users safe as well and make sure they’re not victimized.
“If we do this right it won’t put a strain on our officers.”
-With files from Phil Heidenreich.