June 15, 2018 10:45 am
Updated: June 15, 2018 8:15 pm

Province announces expansion to Lethbridge supervised consumption site

The Alberta government has announced a major commitment to helping Lethbridge address the opioid crisis. The government says millions will be spent to support the growing need for supervised consumption services and needle-collection programs. Malika Karim reports.

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The Alberta government released a plan to help deal with the opioid crisis in Lethbridge on Friday.

The city has struggled over the past year to deal with opioid abuse in the region.

The government said in a news release on Friday the plan includes five key initiatives, including spending $2.6 million to add booths in the supervised consumption centres, $80,000 in emergency funding for needle collection, disposal boxes and expanding the discarded needle program.

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Other aspects include spending $1.9 million on medical detox beds at the Chinook Regional Hospital, spending $100,000 on public education and working with the city to strengthen frontline supports, including a program that would provide individuals with a safe place to stay where supports are available in case of an overdose or other medical issue.

“Last year, 22 people in Lethbridge died of an apparent opioid overdose,” the release said. “In the first three months of 2018, another eight people died of a suspected fentanyl overdose in Lethbridge.”

WATCH: Alberta Government announces a plan to help Lethbridge deal with the opioid crisis.

A report released in May showed the use of the city’s supervised drug consumption site was exceeding expectations, with 389 clients registered to use the facility as of the end of April, while 75 per cent of them had used it multiple times.

The site currently houses six injection booths and two inhalation rooms.

The funding announced on Friday will see the number of booths increase to 13 and will add two new inhalation rooms.

READ MORE: Lethbridge supervised drug consumption site exceeding expectations: report

There’s been growing concern in Lethbridge in recent weeks over discarded needles being left behind by drug users in public places.

It hit close to home for many parents. In late May, a 12-year-old boy was pricked by a syringe outside of a preschool on the city’s north side.

Alberta Health Services says needles that have been left outside for a longer period of time pose less of a risk, and that generally, the threat of contracting HIV is gone within minutes. Hepatitis B, however, can survive exposed for several days.

READ MORE: Lethbridge mother says pre-teen poked with needle outside of preschool

ARCHES (AIDS Outreach Community Harm Reduction Education & Support Society), the organization that runs the safe consumption site, believes residents would have a lot more to be concerned about if it wasn’t around.

There were about 20,000 visits to the site in its first three months of operation, drug use that would otherwise be happening out in the community.

ARCHES says harm reduction is also cost-effective.

Its managing director said on Thursday that it costs $1.2 million to treat a drug user who contracts HIV and $60,000 to treat Hepatitis C, compared to 11 cents for a new syringe.

READ MORE: Safe consumption site says Lethbridge parents would have more to worry about if it didn’t exist

Lethbridge Police Insp. Tom Ascroft said he isn’t concerned the sites will make the opioid crisis worse.

“I don’t think someone is going to start using drugs because there’s a consumption site,” he said. “I think the consumption site is there because of the drug usage. They’re using drugs because they are addicted.”

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