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Edmonton accelerates plan to offer safe injection services in inner city

Syringes on the ground at a downtown Edmonton park Thursday, April 27, 2017. .
Syringes on the ground at a downtown Edmonton park Thursday, April 27, 2017. . Dean Twardzik, Global News

A report heading to city hall early next week suggests there is support from Edmontonians when it comes to offering medically supervised safe injection sites in the city.

Earlier this year, a survey was conducted with residents and businesses within a four-block radius of the three agencies that will be offering the services — Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Street Community Services and the George Spady Society.

While questions were raised about the close proximity of the sites, 74 per cent of the 1,869 respondents agreed with the proposed approach.

Mayor Don Iveson said right now, the most urgent need is in the inner city.

“I’m not surprised to see that there’s obviously complex opinions and reactions and lots of good questions from the public about how medically supervised safe injection would work,” Iveson said Thursday afternoon.

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“It’s reassuring to see that people are moved by the evidence that this is not only a compassionate way to deal with a real challenge, but also that safe injection will help actually improve health outcomes and reduce social disorder and reduce crime.”

READ MORE: Supervised-injection service locations for drug users announced in Edmonton

The report was moved up a few weeks in city council’s schedule in order to accelerate the process to open the sites, which requires the mayor and police chief to write a letter of opinion to the federal government.

“From our discussions with all three orders of government, we all see a worsening crisis that needs an urgent response and hopefully we’ll see announcements quickly about being able to move ahead with these sites,” Iveson said. “This should help with the fentanyl crisis because injection of drugs that are contaminated by fentanyl has been one of the big challenges.

“It’s a much better approach than having people shooting up, frankly, in back alleys.”

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READ MORE: A province-by-province look at opioid-overdose stats, including fentanyl

In the first six weeks of 2017, 51 people in Alberta died from apparent drug overdoses related to fentanyl, according to the most recent information available from Alberta Health. In the same time frame in 2016, 28 died of fentany-related overdoses.

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In 2016, a total of 349 people died from fentanyl-related overdoses in Alberta.

In February of this year, Edmonton firefighters began carrying naloxone kits, which are used to reverse the effects of opioids. Since Feb. 3, 22 naloxone injections have been administered.

READ MORE: Fentanyl overdoses killed hundreds of Canadians in 2016, experts say 2017 could be deadlier

Iveson said the results of its survey show people are becoming more understanding of the fentanyl crisis and opioid addiction, as it touches more and more lives.

“My position is we should move ahead as quickly as possible. It will save lives and reduce social disorder the minute we do it,” Iveson said.

Medically supervised safe injection services will also be offered at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, but only for patients.

The city said over time, there will be further discussion surrounding possible sites in health-care facilities and other parts of the city.

The report will be debated at the city’s Community and Public Services Committee meeting on Monday.