Alberta says it is in talks with social agencies in the province’s two major cities to open new drug overdose prevention sites.
Two are expected to take the place of Calgary’s only supervised consumption site, which has had an average of 10,000 visits each month since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The province said it is waiting for proposals from the Drop-In Centre and Alpha House in Calgary and from Boyle Street Community Services in Edmonton.
“Work is being done by these agencies and others to create proposals and we look forward to reviewing those rapidly once final proposals are received,” Eric Engler, a spokesman in the associate ministry of mental health and addictions, said in a statement.
Overdose prevention sites tend to be more bare-boned than supervised drug-use sites and can operate on a temporary basis.
Engler said the proposals are for “smaller” overdose prevention sites, but did not respond to inquiries about specifics. The province’s recently tabled budget includes a funding increase for overdose prevention services, he added.
Last May, it became known that the province planned to close Calgary’s downtown supervised consumption site and replace it with two smaller sites at undisclosed locations. Critics said the plan to shutter the Safeworks facility would cause harm to existing clients by severing connections between vulnerable Calgarians and trusted health-care providers.
In a statement from the Drop-In Centre, spokesman Nathan Ross said no commitments are in place with the province.
“The (Drop-In) continually reviews our programming and services, and one of our strategic priorities is to enhance access to health services, including mental-health and addiction supports,” Ross said earlier this week.
“We are … exploring a recovery-oriented system of care at the (Drop-In) with the collaboration of other partner agencies such as Alpha House and The Alex.”
Elliot Tanti, a spokesman for Boyle Street Community Services in Edmonton, confirmed the group is working with the government.
“What I can say is we have identified the south side as an area of need in the city and we feel heard loud and clear from the provincial government on that,” Tanti said.
“It wouldn’t be right for me to comment any further on it until we were in a place where we knew that was going to happen.”
The United Conservative government has been criticized for its handling of an overdose crisis that has led Alberta to recording its deadliest years on record during the pandemic. About four people are dying daily from drug poisonings.
Some harm reduction advocates and public health experts have said the government needs to do more, especially as it relates to harm reduction services, to limit needless deaths.
Tanti said the situation remains critical.
“We need more services across the continuum from recovery straight through to (overdose prevention sites) if we’re going to make meaningful impact on this crisis.”.