For 30 years Turning Point has promoted harm reduction strategies to help vulnerable populations.
Formerly known as Central Alberta AIDS Network Society, the local agency was launched along with others around the world in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, said executive director Stacey Carmichael.
“Over the past 30 years they have continued to respond to that particular concern, but also it was identified in the mid-90s that HIV was really prevalent with injection drug users. That’s when we started heading down that road,” Carmichael said as the agency prepared for its 30th Birthday BBQ to be held Wednesday, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the agency located at 4811 50th Ave.
Since 2015 Turning Point has led the fight to prevent overdose deaths by providing free naloxone kits during Alberta’s opioid crisis.
Fewer new HIV cases are diagnosed today, although Central Alberta continues to see new cases. Those with undetectable viral loads don’t transmit HIV anymore with advances in treatment so prevention has come a long way, she said.
“Hopefully 20 years from now we’ll be sitting here talking about that old opioid epidemic and maybe how we’re closing our doors because we’re not needed anymore,” Carmichael said with smile.
On the job for eight months, Carmichael said she has worked along side Turning Point while employed at other community agencies and watched Central Alberta Methadone Program, the Street Clinic now run by Red Deer Primary Care Network, and Safe Harbour Society all get their start at Turning Point.
“All of those places came as a response to an issue that was identified at Turning Point.”
She said the agency continues to work in the area of sexually transmitted blood borne diseases, including the current gonorrhea and syphilis epidemic. Expanding the overdose prevention program with more access in rural communities is another focus.
So far in May, Turning Point has given out 70 naloxone kits and staff have heard of six overdose reversals and one fatality.
“We had 17 overdose fatalities in 2018 that we know of.”
Since July 2015, the agency has handed out 7,670 kits with 1,123 reversals reported.
Turning Point has 2,416 harm reduction clients across Central Alberta, an increase of 208 females and 399 males in the last six months of the 2017-18 fiscal year.
“They’re hearing about how dangerous drug use is right now and they’re doing their best to be as safe as they can. It’s great.”
When it comes to overdose reversals, most are performed by friends but it would be much better if they were done by registered nurses in a supervised consumption site.
“It’s really, really important that our community have a supervised consumption service so that’s where our energy is going right now.
“It’s not our intention to operate a mobile site. It’s not the best use of resources. I suppose if it’s the only thing we’re allowed to do because of our zoning and bylaw options, then we might have to do that. But that’s not what our community needs. Not at all.”