Dedicated teams to provide drug poisoning prevention and response in downtown Edmonton

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Members of Boyle Street Community Services, the Downtown Business Association and the city are coming together in hopes of preventing drug overdoses in downtown Edmonton.

Trained medical professionals and outreach workers have come together to form the Overdose Prevention and Response Teams (OPRTs). Operated by Boyle Street, the goal is for team members to provide drug poisoning prevention and response throughout the downtown pedway system and surrounding streets.

“Over the last decade, the number of deaths in Alberta from drug poisoning has dramatically increased, particularly since the start of the pandemic,” said Jordan Reiniger, executive director of Boyle Street.

“This new program puts critical resources on the ground to reduce the tragic loss of life due to drug poisoning in Edmonton. It also takes a community-based approach that helps to strengthen the resiliency of our city’s core as it regains its footing in the aftermath of the pandemic.”

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Team members will also be responsible for providing education and training to downtown businesses on how to respond to drug poisonings.

Other tasks include:

  • Model ways to interact with the community members and provide information on the causes of substance use disorder
  • Address basic health issues by conducting assessments and providing minor wound care
  • Provide referrals and connections to appropriate services
  • Encourage and arrange for COVID-19, flu, Hepatitis A and B immunizations
  • Provide needle pickup

“The work of the OPRTs will save lives, reduce trauma and help improve the overall experience for anyone working, living or visiting downtown,” said Puneeta McBryan, executive director of the Downtown Business Association.

“These teams are providing a critical service in our downtown that helps to alleviate the pressures and stressors of the opioid crisis that have been weighing on our downtown community.”

McBryan added this partnership is exactly the type of thing they’ve been seeking out for years.

“They’re actively walking through downtown properties and our streets to respond to overdoses and help educate people and also do a bit of outreach work to just help folks who might need to be connected to services,” she said.

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“Right now it’s business owners, it’s security personnel who have been trying to play this role, and it hasn’t been sustainable.

“Our security guards who work for various properties downtown have been responding to overdoses, taking on that duty and that trauma on top of their regular duties for almost two years now because of the pandemic.”

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The pilot program received a $195,000 grant as part of the City of Edmonton’s Downtown Vibrancy Strategy. It will run from May to September 2022.

“A key piece of a downtown’s vibrancy is ensuring it’s a safe, clean and welcoming place to live, work, study and visit,” said Stephanie McCabe, deputy city manager of Urban Planning and Economy.

“There is a lot of work to do to advance community safety and well-being in Edmonton; this program is an important step on that journey.”

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More than 1,700 Albertans died of drug overdoses in 2021, the province’s deadliest year on record.

According to the most recent data from Alberta Health, 160 Albertans died of drug poisonings in January of this year. Of those deaths, 55 occurred in Edmonton.

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