With Canada’s biggest cities tackling the opioid crisis, Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer feels it’s time to get the fentanyl issue on the table among mid-sized cities.
Red Deer is experiencing many of the same crime and overdose problems larger centres are facing with the highly potent and addictive drug, said Veer. With our central location off Alberta’s main Hwy 2 corridor, she added, Red Deer “is in a unique position.”
Yet the city’s relatively small population means Red Deer wasn’t asked to sit on a coalition formed to stop a growing drug crisis. It includes federal cabinet ministers and mayors of 12-big cities: Vancouver, Surrey, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Hamilton, London, Kitchener, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
However, Mayor Veer said she will attend a mid-sized cities mayors’ caucus in mid-April in Stony Plain. And she intends to introduce the subject of fentanyl at the open-table discussion — that is, if it isn’t already on the meeting agenda set by the host city.
“If other cities have successful strategies in dealing with (fentanyl), then it’s in the public interest for them to share it,” Veer added.
Fentanyl is described as causing the worst health crisis among local drug users since the AIDS epidemic. Red Deer outreach workers say at least 16 people died over the last year in the city, compared to a handful of overdose deaths in 2015.
Deaths are so prevalent that workers with Turning Point’s NightReach Team are having daily debriefing sessions to deal with the emotional strains of the job.
Veer said she has had meetings with the Red Deer City RCMP superintendent over growing challenges caused by fentanyl. Since the synthetic opioid is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and so many other drugs are being laced with it, she said local paramedics have routinely carried anti-overdose kits with the opioid blocker naloxone for several years.
RCMP officers have also been carrying the same kits for the last year.
Veer said, “We know that many property and person crimes are caused by illicit drug use, so we need to do whatever we can to address the problem, in terms of crime prevention and enforcement….
“Crime and safety have been identified as the public’s No. 1 priority.”
She added that fentanyl problems should also be discussed at a national level at meetings of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.