Premier Kenney rejects Opposition attacks as Alberta halts new drug consumption sites

WATCH ABOVE: Some videos from Global News' coverage of supervised consumption sites in Alberta.

Premier Jason Kenney is rejecting accusations he is putting vulnerable Albertans at risk by freezing funds for proposed new supervised consumption drug sites.

Kenney made the comments Monday, as the Opposition NDP labelled the freeze part of a covert government plan to cancel not only the proposed sites, but also existing ones in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge.

READ MORE: Federal court dismisses request for judicial review of 3 Edmonton supervised injection sites

Watch below: (From Feb. 28, 2019) The federal court has dismissed an application from businesses in Edmonton’s Chinatown area to amalgamate the area’s three supervised consumption sites. Sarah Kraus explains.

Click to play video: 'Judicial review of 3 Edmonton supervised injection sites dismissed' Judicial review of 3 Edmonton supervised injection sites dismissed
Judicial review of 3 Edmonton supervised injection sites dismissed – Mar 1, 2019

Kenney said his government is committed to helping people addicted to opioids and other drugs, and is earmarking an extra $100 million over the next four years as part of a mental health and addictions strategy.

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“This government will make unprecedented investments in treatment and recovery to offer a way out of the downward spiral of addiction that is claiming too many lives in this province,” Kenney told the house during question period.

But Kenney said his government will also follow through on a campaign promise to study the effects of supervised drug centres on surrounding communities, adding the sites have to work to everyone’s benefit.

“Tell that to the local residents of the Beltway region of Calgary, where there has been a massive increase in crime and the harassment of people who can no longer live safely in their own community,” said Kenney.

“We committed to listen to those Albertans, as well those here in Edmonton’s Chinatown, whose lives have been changed as a result [of the sites].”

The existing supervised consumption sites were created by the former NDP government. But new sites in Red Deer and Medicine Hat, along with a mobile site in Calgary, are on hold pending a government review on the benefits of consumption sites compared with the potential for increased crime and other problems.

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READ MORE: Calgary police say increased calls mean ‘positive impact’ near supervised consumption site

Drugs are not provided at supervised consumption sides, but people who use them have access to sterile equipment, along with health and social services support and treatment in case they overdose.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley told the house Monday the sites have prevented an estimated 2,400 overdose deaths. She accused Kenney of “turning your back on these vulnerable Albertans.”

“A delay in sites will mean more lives lost. A closure of sites will mean even more lives lost.”

Notley referred to comments Kenney made to a Lethbridge newspaper on Feb. 28, 2018, that suggest he is predisposed to shutting them down.

“The premier himself has said he thinks these sites exist only to allow people to inject poison into their bodies,” said Notley.

Kenney has appointed Jason Luan as an associate minister responsible for mental health and addictions.

Luan said late last week he is freezing new supervised drug sites pending a review of the system to determine the best way to spend the $100 million in dedicated funds.

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He told reporters that while there is no deadline yet for the review, “I want it to be done quick so that we can get on doing something.”

Luan, a former social worker, said he believes in the importance of supervised drug injection sites but only as part of a larger continuum of care.

He declined to say if existing supervised drug consumption sites will remain, saying he does not want to prejudge the review.

Heather Sweet, the NDP’s critic on addictions, said the government is already sending a message by freezing the existing sites.

“They’re going to look at trying to find a way to close [all] these sites,” said Sweet.

READ MORE: Usage numbers remain high at Lethbridge supervised consumption site

Watch below: (From May 21, 2019) Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site has been busy since opening its doors more than a year ago. Demi Knight reports.

Click to play video: 'Usage numbers remain high at Lethbridge supervised consumption site' Usage numbers remain high at Lethbridge supervised consumption site
Usage numbers remain high at Lethbridge supervised consumption site – May 21, 2019

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