Red Deer has the highest fentanyl death rate of any Alberta city and urgently needs a supervised drug consumption site, Red Deer council was told.
According to a letter from the Turning Point Society, presented at Monday’s council meeting, there’s a vital need for a local site where addicted people can use illicit street drugs in a supervised environment to prevent more overdose deaths.
In 2016, Red Deer had the highest rate of fentanyl-related deaths in the province at 21 per 100,000 people. The next highest was in Grande Prairie at 13.4 deaths per 100,000.
The government declared a public health crisis because more Albertans are dying of fentanyl overdoses annually than of congestive heart failure, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, breast or prostate cancer, and car accidents.
While Red Deer’s drug fatalities are alarming, councillors still unanimously voted to ask the province for a more “robust” public consultation before a supervised consumption site is introduced. (Coun. Dianne Wyntjes and Coun. Paul Harris were absent and didn’t vote).
Council felt the seven public consultations done in August by the harm reduction group Turning Point on a supervised consumption site were inadequate. About 115 community representatives from the school boards, city, businesses, Red Deer College and other groups attended, mostly by invitation.
The voice of the general public also needs to be heard, said Mayor Tara Veer, who was supported by the rest of council on this. However, Coun. Ken Johnston added public consultations must happen quickly, as there isn’t time to spend months in forums as more people die from the highly potent opioid.
Councillors also renewed calls for more drug treatment facilities in this city, and called for the province to step in with strategic solutions to the needle “debris” turning up in parks and parking lots.
Council resolved that Alberta Health should assume responsibility for the impact needle distribution is having on Red Deer since it funds the free distribution of needles to drug users by Turning Point. (The program does not work as a strict exchange, in which new needles replace ones that are turned in).
Of the 500,000 needles distributed locally every year, council heard only about 350,000 are returned to used needle disposal boxes, leaving 150,000 unaccounted for.
Coun. Tanya Handley said one of these used needles was found by her son and his friends as they were playing in the park near the Golden Circle for a school recreation education class.
Even though she’d always warned her son not to touch any needles he might find, one of his classmates picked up the syringe and threw it in the garbage before telling an adult. “It’s very scary,” said Handley.