Does Red Deer need a safe-injection site?

Turning Point to study possible consumption site

Turning Point will start work in April on an assessment to see whether Red Deer needs an opioid consumption site.

In October the province announced $500,000 in grants to be split between six Alberta communities with existing needle exchange programs to assess the need for safe, supervised sites for opioid use.

Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, Turning Point executive director, said the assessment will include surveying about 200 people who use drugs in Red Deer.

“They’re the experts in this. It isn’t a general public conversation. The consultations are very specific,” Vanderschaeghe said.

She said funding for the assessment is expected to arrive soon and will coincide with Turning Point hiring a consultant in this next step to address the opioid overdose epidemic and fentanyl deaths.

The assessment will be finished by Sept. 30.

Community agencies across the province are working collaboratively to collect data that can be compared and can assist those with addictions. But communities could have unique challenges and populations, she said.

“At the end of the day what has to happen in Red Deer might be entirely different than what needs to happen in Medicine Hat or Lethbridge.”

Turning Point, Central Alberta’s harm-reduction agency, had 856 active clients as of October.

Since July 2015, Turning Point has been distributing free Naloxone injection kits and trains people use them in response to the rise in fentanyl overdoses.

On March 19 the agency gave out its 2,000th kit and as of Monday an additional 60 had been handed out.

Vanderschaeghe said to date Turning Point has been aware of 477 drug reversals as a result of using the kits, including 49 so far this month.

“That’s a lot of people who overdosed and almost died (in March). That’s more than 10 per cent of reversals altogether. That’s an indication of just how much this is growing.”

She said Turning Point staff heard of four overdose deaths in March.

“We’re finding that the Naloxone program is bringing us people who wouldn’t necessarily access us. People who don’t use drugs everyday. People who are just weekend partiers. People who are just snorting. We’re fine to support them however we can. It’s too bad thought that there aren’t more organizations providing more services during this emergency.”

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