AHS plans to continue drug consumption site discussions in Red Deer

The goal is to come up with a location “that works for all.”

Alberta Health Services plans to continue discussions about opening a supervised-consumption site (SCS) in Red Deer — at a location that’s agreeable to all partners.

Kerry Bales, chief officer for Central Zone for Alberta Health Services, said “We will work with stakeholders, including the City of Red Deer and Turning Point, to come up with an option that works for all.”

Since addicted people are dying because of the opioid crisis, Bales wants to provide the service “as soon as possible.” It was anticipated a SCS would open in the Red Deer by spring, and he said that’s still the goal.

Earlier this week, Red Deer city council rejected Turning Point’s downtown location, saying the supervised injection site is not compatible with area businesses and belongs in a medical setting.

But neither Turning Point, nor AHS, believe Red Deer hospital is appropriate because of space restrictions and because it’s too institutional and not accessible to the drug users who would benefit from the service.

An open letter from Alberta Health Services states: “The location of SCS is critical to its success … Locating a SCS away from the individuals who need the service makes it inaccessible — substance users are not going to use public transportation or travel long distances in order to access this service. We need to come to them.”

For that reason, AHS will not submit an application to open a SCS at the hospital. Bales wants to come up with a location that will make the program successful, and have community support.

AHS was directed by Albert Health to facilitate the provision of safe drug consumption services in Red Deer. The group has been working with various community partners through the Red Deer Coalition on the Opioid Crisis.

However, city councillors have repeatedly stated they have not had enough opportunities for input.

Bales said, “AHS is not the owner or driver of the process. But if anyone has felt disconnected we’ll make sure that conversation happens quickly.”

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said “nothing precludes future discussions,” but council already made a decision on land use, determining a downtown business location was not suitable for the service.

Recognizing a SCS is needed “in short order,” however, Veer said the next discussion around the council table in January is on the possibility of offering it as a mobile service — as is done in Kamloops, Kelowna and Montreal.

Bales said the mobile option isn’t preferred because it doesn’t allow for the provision of wrap-around services to clients.

But Veer said if Turning Point operates the mobile SCS, there’s always the chance to make clients aware of its other services. “The relationship (drug users have) is with Turning Point staff, not its facility,” she added.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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