With signs of support in tow, people rallied in Central Memorial Park for the Calgary Day of Action on Saturday, calling on the government to boost harm reduction services as the opioid crisis continues.
June 26 is the international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking, according to the United Nations.
‘We can’t be creating chaos’
Harm reduction advocate Euan Thomson said the Calgary event, “Say YES to SCS,” was about showing support for Safeworks, the supervised consumption site in the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre that the province announced the closure of a month ago. The site is being relocated to two undisclosed locations on an unknown timeline.
“We’re concerned there’s going to be a big loss of services for people who need it the most, and so we’re bringing out a whole bunch of different groups together to announce their support for that site,” Thomson said.
He said moving the site is shortsighted.
“We’re in the depths of a crisis now. Something needs to be done. We can’t be moving these sites. We can’t be creating chaos… It’s going to cause people to slip through the cracks, resulting in more deaths by drug poisoning than even what we’re seeing right now, which is an exorbitant number,” he said.
“We need to do what we can to reverse the overdose crisis and get back on track so that people can live their lives.”
Drug overdose services should be expanded, and different agencies should run a multitude of sites across the province, Thomson said.
“There are a lot of things we can do, including introducing safe supply programs, more supervised consumption sites and ultimately, decriminalization of drugs so that we’re not criminalizing people that use them is the real solution to all of this,” he said.
“But in the meantime, we’ve got to take harm reduction measures to mitigate deaths.”
Justin Marshall, addictions ministry press secretary, said Saturday that supervised consumption sites will be added at two undisclosed partner organization sites in Calgary that “already serve individuals suffering from addiction prior to any changes to the Sheldon Chumir site.”
“These new sites will be situated much closer to those who need such services. In addition, important life-saving services will be expanded such as detox treatment and connection to other health-care services,” he said via email, declining to announce the locations or when Safeworks will be closed.
“We understand that some wish to adopt a Vancouver-style, social-chaos approach, including flooding the streets with taxpayer-funded, oxycontin-style narcotics, but we firmly reject that view.”
In 2020 1,144 Albertans died of opioid overdoses, according to the government.