Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney is stepping back from comments made last week suggesting he would oppose new supervised injection sites if he were to become premier.
The province is setting up the sites, in which addicts consume drugs in a hygienic environment monitored by trained staff, as a response to the mounting opioid crisis death toll.
That approach has drawn stiff opposition from the UCP leader, who said the province should be spending more on enforcement and treatment, “not spend money to help them consume drugs.”
“We absolutely need to show compassion for those suffering with addiction, and we need to help them get off drugs. But helping addicts inject poison into their bodies is not a long-term solution,” Kenney said in a statement posted to Twitter on Friday.
In Vancouver on Monday, Kenney softened his tone — acknowledging that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that governments have the obligation to license supervised consumption sites.
“I’m not saying I’m opposed to reasonable harm reduction efforts, but I am saying that we need to be realistic about this,” Kenney said.
“We obviously respect the authority of the court in this respect, with one caveat. I would want properly to consult with local communities about the placement of facilities.”
WATCH: Safe consumption sites approved in Alberta
Kenney said he was concerned that consumption sites in Edmonton were being clustered in one geographic area, and said that residents and businesses should have the right to have a say on whether the sites are established in their neighbourhood.
But while Kenney struck a lighter tone on the consumption facilities, he made clear they are not his preferred method of addressing the opioid addiction crisis, calling for greater intervention and stronger legal consequences for dealers.
“The notion that this is a panacea for the consumption of some of these really toxic opioids is, I think, a bit naive.”
Health Canada has approved multiple consumption sites across Alberta, with clinics now open in Calgary and Lethbridge, and three sites set to open soon in Edmonton.
Needs assessments are also being done in Edson, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat and Red Deer.
Six people died of overdoses in Alberta in 2011; since then, that number has risen sharply — there were 358 deaths in 2016, and 562 last year.
Activists and public health officials have hailed supervised consumption sites as a life-saving, if stopgap, component in the response to the overdose crisis.
In neighbouring B.C., where more than 2,400 people have died of suspected drug overdoses in the last two years alone, not one death has been recorded in one of the province’s supervised consumption sites.
— With files from Jeremy Lye and The Canadian Press
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