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Coalition of experts present annual review on opioid crisis to Lethbridge officials

Coalition of experts presents annual review on opioid crisis to Lethbridge officials
WATCH: The City of Lethbridge is continuing to review its approach to the drug crisis. A coalition tasked with tackling the issue presented its findings to a city committee Monday. As Emily Olsen reports, the biggest concerns were with the increase in meth use and the barriers to recovery.

The city of Lethbridge is continuing the push in its fight against the opioid crisis.

The Executive Leaders Coalition on Opioid Use presented its annual findings at Monday’s Community Issues Committee meeting.

The coalition is comprised of officials from law enforcement, first responder services, Alberta Health Services and ARCHES supervised consumption site.

This year, the group addressed successes with the four-pillar approach currently used in the region, and brought a new focus on the rise of meth use in the community.

READ MORE: New Lethbridge hospital detox beds not being used by opioid users

Lethbridge Police Service officials said they’ve seen the rise in meth-related crime in the downtown region.

“The use of meth is something that creates erratic, sometimes violent behaviour, so it does add a level of concern for our officers responding to complaints where there is an unknown risk involved,” Insp. Jason Walper said.

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“We have dedicated resources to deal with drug-specific investigations, and I know that the chief and the executive of the police are currently looking at other strategies in dealing with the drug issues in Lethbridge and the surrounding region. That’s something that we’re meeting regularly in the next two months to look at.”

READ MORE: Alberta government providing $12.6M to help with Lethbridge opioid crisis

Presenters made it clear that the site along with the other pillars of drug response in the community are proving successful in reducing deaths and increasing the number of people seeking further treatment and sobriety.

The site has frequently been blamed for crime rates in the Lethbridge area.

Multiple members of the coalition were quick to point out that the policies in place at ARCHES do not allow those with violent pasts to use their services or those with erratic behaviour to leave the facility without supervision and police intervention.

“They don’t serve people who are known violent offenders or repeat violent offenders,” Mayor Chris Spearman said. “Quite often, the people we hear about committing violent crimes are not clients of the supervised consumption site, but they are drug users.”

Suggestions for additional support were listed at the meeting, which Spearman said didn’t come as a surprise.

“The things that we need, we’ve been asking for some time,” Spearman said.

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“We need a dedicated Crown prosecutor so we can effectively prosecute here. We need a safe communities and neighbourhoods permanent unit so we can shut down drug houses and stop the supply. We need the supports in the city of Lethbridge that are available in Calgary and Edmonton.”

READ MORE: Finance minister addresses Lethbridge concerns over Alberta budget

Spearman also said the still-undecided funding from the province for the drug crisis is crucial to put any additional supports in motion.

“We need the province to step up as a partner,” Spearman said. “We need some of those dollars flowing into Lethbridge, recognizing and understanding that if they’re announced tomorrow, a lot of those programs won’t be available for a year or two. We’ll actually have to build facilities and staff them.”

The LPS is preparing new Community Peace Officers to hit the streets in the next two weeks to provide more support.

Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services has requested an additional 24-hour ambulance and new staff to help support response times and reduce first responder exhaustion.

Alberta Health Services has offered to streamline intake for addiction support programs and create a system that more closely links all the programs offered in the city, allowing the organizations to focus on treatment rather than processing each patient’s registration separately.

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The city is awaiting the province’s decision on funding allocation before it can make any decisions regarding future drug crisis responses.