Red Deer’s Turning Point has heard of 15 opioid-related deaths so far this year, but thankfully 207 overdose reversals with naloxone.
The latest report on opioid deaths from Alberta Health confirms six fentanyl-related deaths and two from carfentanil in Central Alberta between Jan. 1 and Feb. 11.
Stacey Carmichael, Turning Point executive director, said some of the 15 deaths would still need to be confirmed by Alberta Health, but there has likely been more than that.
Turning Point has heard about three deaths in March and so far one in April.
Last week, the agency received $64,700 in provincial funding for opioid awareness programs. Turning Point will use the money to develop an anti-stigma campaign, and host town hall meetings mostly in rural communities around Central Alberta.
She said many people don’t understand what the opioid crisis is and who it impacts.
“This is affecting everybody and the longer we chalk it up to the homeless, IV drug users problem, the more people are having fatal overdoses. It’s devastating recreational drug users and their families as well as the more chronic users,” Carmichael said.
“We need to get rid of the stigma that shrouds addictions and start having different conversations. Until we do that, I can’t see things getting a whole lot better.”
She said the first community meeting will be held in Consort later this month, and it will include discussions about the root causes of addiction.
Two meetings will eventually be held in Red Deer.
To further reduce drug-related deaths, Turning Point wants to operate a supervised consumption site (SCS) at its downtown location.
But in December, city council decided it could either set up a fixed site on the grounds of Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, or apply for a mobile SCS unit once licensing requirements are approved.
Neither Turning Point nor Alberta Health Services agree with the hospital location.
Carmichael said mobile licensing will likely be discussed at city council before the end of the month, but the entire process could take until May or June to complete.
Coun. Vesna Higham said many people are under the misconception council has been blocking Red Deer from getting a SCS.
She said the council acted quickly to allow the service at the hospital, either in the hospital or on the grounds, which is within the one-km radius of Turning Point that survey respondents said they’d be willing to travel to access the service.
“A SCS could have been up and running within weeks of that approval, particularly if a temporary trailer-type structure were placed on hospital grounds,” Higham said.
She said in Lethbridge city council similarly denied permission for a SCS in its downtown core, and, instead, approved a site just outside its downtown core. Its agency worked to make services available at the approved site.
“Many of our citizens have serious concerns about the viability of our downtown if a SCS were approved in the heart of downtown at the Turning Point site,” Higham said.