The Alberta government has announced they’re doubling grant money for harm reduction programs in Lethbridge to help deal with the opioid crisis, including those offered by ARCHES, a volunteer-based, not-for-profit organization.
“Last month, I committed $80,000 for needle collection and I’ve made the determination that we need to double that,” said Health Minister Sarah Hoffman via teleconference Friday. “We will be investing $160,000 to ensure that we have the right collection and disposal of any needles that could be found in the community, and these resources mean that ARCHES can expand their services, including adding new needle disposal boxes and outreach for the clean sweep program.”
The City of Lethbridge is welcoming the extra funds, but stresses there are underlying issues that need to be addressed as well.
“We basically have identified almost 700 individual users; that’s a huge number,” said Mayor Chris Spearman. “43 per cent of those users are using it about 10 times a day. What we have to do is have a process and a plan for exiting people off dependency. So we lack all those services and we need to work with the provincial government to provide those services.”
In a letter to Mayor Spearman, the province also addresses council’s ability to tweak bylaws regarding harm reduction programs.
This is in response to inquires from the council after Councillor Blaine Hyggen proposed introducing a motion next week to prevent needles from leaving the supervised consumption site.
In the letter, the province says, “A council may pass bylaws about the safety, health, and welfare of local residents, and protection of property.”
However, the province also says any such bylaw could be challenged in court.
None of the new money is going to nearby business owners to help them recoup increased security costs, but Hoffman says they are working with the city and police to ensure safety for all.
The health minister says she hopes the cleanup program and hiring of more staff will help reduce harmful debris and behaviours in the area.