Edmonton’s first supervised safe injection location will open to clients on Friday at Boyle Street Community Services.
Four safe injection sites have been approved for Edmonton — three in inner-city neighbourhoods and one at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. The Royal Alex service will be open to patients only.
The services are intended to give users — who must be at least 16-years-old — a safe place to inject drugs, but they will also house a number of other services to deal with the root cause of their drug use.
Each location will be staffed with a nurse, social worker/addiction worker and peer support worker.
Supervised Consumption Services director Erica Schoen said the opening of the first site is an exciting time for advocates of the facilities.
“What that means to us is less loss of life for people that we care about,” Schoen said.
“It means less needles on the ground. It means another opportunity to connect with those who are most vulnerable and most marginalized in our society.”
A user will be required to bring his or her own drugs to the location and inject on their own. The person will be provided with items such as clean needles, sterile water, candles to cook drugs and alcohol wipes.
When a drug user enters the facility, they will first go into the intake room where an assessment will be done on the drugs he or she plans to inject. The individual will then go into the injection room where they will receive supplies before sitting down in a mirrored booth so a nurse can watch the injection.
“I would do everything from making sure that they clean the site very well, making sure that when they were cooking the drug that all the crystals were all gone and that they were using the filter to then filter the drug so that there wasn’t any kind of shards or anything that could go into the vein that damaged the vein,” registered nurse Katrina Stephenson said.
The final step is the monitoring room where the individuals will receive food, participate in activities and discuss with staff the resources available to them.
Stephenson has previous experience at a supervised safe injection site in Vancouver, and she’ll now be the lead nurse at the Boyle Street location.
“They’re a lot calmer, they feel cared for, they feel respected, and just their whole demeanor is different,” Stephenson said.
“It’s just like any other care I’ve provided really. It’s nursing care, it’s caring for that individual medically as they’re injecting and making sure they’re doing it safely and reducing their harm,” Stephenson said.
Watch below: Marliss Taylor from Streetworks explains why these facilities save lives
Users have to be at least 16-years-old to inject at the sites, but anyone can receive outreach support and resources.
“It gives people a place where they feel safe. Everything we do is harm reduction based, meaning we meet people where they’re at and there’s no judgement just, ‘What are your goals? What would you like to see happen with your life? How could we support you?'” Schoen said.
The locations of the sites has been a contentious issue in Edmonton, with some residents arguing the sites have been clustered around neighbourhoods already overwhelmed with social services.
In early 2017, a survey was conducted with residents and businesses within a four-block radius of three of the agencies — 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.
In October 2017, Health Canada approved safe injection sites for opioid drugs in Edmonton and Lethbridge.
Alberta Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne said the decision will help reduce a growing number of fatal drug overdoses and the spread of diseases such as HIV.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information has said data from Alberta suggests emergency room visits related to heroin and synthetic opioid overdoses spiked almost 10-fold in the last five years.