On April 2, another supervised consumption site will open at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital, becoming the first hospital-based service in North America.
The Royal Alex location will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but available for hospital patients only.
The in-hospital resources will be able to serve six patients at any given time. It will be staffed by nurses, and patients will also have access to their doctor, counsellors, social workers and peer-support workers to connect them with resources like mental health support, social supports and opioid-dependency treatment.
“Edmonton has once again shown its innovation by being the first city in North America to have a site like this within a hospital,” Mayor Don Iveson said on Tuesday.
“This model will not just save lives in Edmonton but will help other vulnerable individuals from other cities as other leaders learn and possibly apply how it can be done.”
The director of the Royal Alex’s Addiction Recovery Community Health program said patients at the hospital will be able to walk over to the area, be assessed, use the service and their care team will be updated.
Dr. Kathryn Dong added this site will meet a huge need even just within the hospital.
“We estimate that approximately 20 patients — that we’re aware of — per day would be eligible for access to this service,” she said.
“It’s very difficult to talk to your physician or care team about your substance use so there are, I suspect, many patients that we don’t know about that will present to access this service as well. One of our hopes with this service is we improve our ability to identify patients who are at high risk and could benefit from intervention and assessment while they’re hospitalized for another medical reason.”
Dong says there have been recent drug overdoses inside the hospital.
“Yes, unfortunately. It’s something that we’ve been dealing with for quite some time: overdoses that occur on-site.
“Obviously, our hope is that many of those patients are found quickly, although that’s unfortunately not always the case. We really hope this area will provide much more immediate access to life-saving treatment when it’s required.”
On Friday, the city opened its first supervised consumption site at Boyle Street Community Services. As of 8 a.m. Monday, the location had seen 59 unique visitors and several repeat visitors.
The services are intended to give users — who must be at least 16 years old — a safer place to inject drugs. The facilities mean drug users are using clean supplies, injecting indoors, washing their hands, not sharing needles and disposing of them safely.
“I’m fully confident that good decision-making has happened here and it will save lives,” Iveson said.
Two other sites are scheduled to open in Edmonton in the coming months.
“We are looking to open the George Spady site within the next two to three weeks and then Boyle McCauley, I believe, will be early summer due to construction issues,” Supervised Consumption Services director Erica Schoen explained.
The province said 562 people in Alberta died of apparent fentanyl poisonings last year, including 135 people in Edmonton.
“Our son Danny was alone when he overdosed and he could not be saved,” said Petra Schulz, the co-founder of the group Moms Stop the Harm.
“As mothers and families, we want to keep our loved ones alive and as healthy as possible until they can arrive at a place in their lives where treatment works for them. This supervised consumption site will help us achieve that outcome.
“These services are about keeping people alive and building relationships,” Schulz said. “Within the hospital setting, health professionals can reach out to individuals who might otherwise not seek help, and connect them with harm reduction, treatment and social services.”
Schoen said in addition to offering a clean environment, the supervised consumption sites create opportunities for respectful conversations about everything from mental health to the root cause of addiction.
“It’s important we do everything we can to support individuals and families affected by the opioid crisis,” Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said.
“Supervised consumption sites provide a secure, supportive place for people who use substances, while also being connected with wraparound services such as counselling and treatment programs. The addition of this new lifesaving service at the Royal Alex not only means greater safety for patients; it also supports a safer hospital environment for staff and visitors.”
The three public facilities will have different operating hours to provide nearly around-the-clock coverage.
Schoen said the site at the George Spady Centre (10015 105A Ave.) aims to be open in the next two to three weeks. The homeless shelter location will be smaller — three booths instead of five — and will be open overnight from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The fourth site, at the Boyle McCauley Health Centre (10628 96 St.) will open in early summer. The later opening is due to construction issues, Schoen said. It is expected to operate four days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Boyle Street Community Services location is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Health Canada has approved six supervised consumption sites in Alberta.
WATCH: This was the first weekend for Edmonton’s first supervised injection site. Staff tell Fletcher Kent there were 59 unique visits.
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