Health Canada has confirmed to Global News that it has received five applications from Alberta for supervised opioid consumption services. Four are for Edmonton and one is for Calgary.
An Alberta government spokesperson said on Monday the Edmonton locations would include the George Spady Society, the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Boyle Street Community Services and Boyle McCauley Health Centre.
Alberta Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said her department is still evaluating whether it makes more sense to have one location or multiple locations in Calgary.
“With the Edmonton services, there are going to be four separate locations that we will be opening, ideally around the same time,” Payne said. “So we might follow a similar model in Calgary or it might be a single site; that is still being determined.”
Payne called such supervised consumption services “life-saving.”
“Having the option for someone to use drugs in a medically supervised environment will make a really positive impact on the overdose rate that we are seeing in our province,” she said.
“The rate of overdoses is alarming and it’s at a crisis level here in Alberta.”
The co-chair of the Calgary Coalition on Supervised Consumption (CCSC) agrees the province is in a crisis.
“People are overdosing and dying by overdose every day,” Leslie Hill said. “People want to be in a space where they have somebody to respond. We have heard from some of our clients that they are quite afraid to be using in spaces where they are isolated.”
The coalition includes members of the Calgary Police Service, Alberta Health Services and community groups.
“The reason that people want to go to them is safety. It creates a respecting and trusting relationship with people who might not otherwise access traditional healthcare supports,” Hill said. “If they don’t feel judged for using drugs or for the circumstances that they’re finding themselves in, that is a really big driver for them.”
Hill said there is a requirement for some form of community consultation before the site opens.
“I would anticipate there would be information provided to people in the immediate vicinity. In other communities they have had opportunities to tour the facility and ask questions,” Hill said.
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She said it helps to have a conversation about the fears people have surrounding supervised consumption sites. Hill also said evidence shows supervised consumption services can have a positive effect on the community.
“People are concerned about increased crime or increased public injection, but the evidence actually suggests that supervised consumption can lower incidents of public injection. It can actually lower petty crime rates in a community and lower the amount of discarded and needles that are found in the community,” Hill said.
The Calgary Coalition on Supervised Consumption is now putting out a survey to at least 400 drug users who might use a supervised consumption site. The survey asks for feedback on the proposed facility.
For more information on how to access the survey, you can call (403) 619–8735 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he supports supervised consumption services in the city.
“We are continuing to lose three or four people a week in Calgary to death by overdose,” Nenshi said. “That’s not even counting the people who survived the overdoses.
“That is far more people than we lose to violence; it’s far more people than we lose to car accidents. It’s an absolute crisis.”
There is no word yet on how long it will take for Health Canada to approve the supervised consumption service in Calgary, but the federal department said it has already approved 12 across the country after recently streamlining the process.
Applicants now only have to meet five conditions – down from the 26 that used to be required. For more information from Health Canada, click here.