Upcoming community consultation on a possible supervised drug consumption site in Red Deer has one local emergency response worker hoping people can get beyond their initial judgment and consider community safety.
Eight Alberta communities are each completing a study to determine if they need a consumption site to address the opioid crisis brought on by fentanyl overdoses.
In 2016 the rate of fentanyl deaths in Red Deer exceeded other Alberta cities at 21 per cent per 100,000 and 23 deaths.
Firefighter paramedic Doug Robertson said drug overdose calls are a regular occurrence with about one per day on average.
“I wouldn’t say I’m 100 per cent pro-injection sites, I just know what’s being done now isn’t working so we’d be foolish not to investigate other alternatives. Maybe give it a try and if it doesn’t work you move onto something else. It beats sticking your head in the sand and just letting things continue the way they are,” Robertson said.
He said emergency response workers are always prepared for the worst and hope for the best with overdose calls.
“It’s definitely a call that is forefront in people’s minds for a variety of reasons. They tend to be quite serious calls. Even when things go relatively well for the patient, sometimes it can be hard on police and fire and EMS responders because you don’t know how that person is going to respond to you once they’ve regained consciousness. It can be a very volatile situation.”
He said overdose deaths are on the rise regardless of the availability of naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses and overdose calls come from all over the city.
“A lot of people would be surprised to find out it occurs more often than they think in nice neighbourhoods. The chances of experiencing it are less, but it happens in every neighbourhood in the city.”
Robertson said people may think the cost of operating a consumption site for people to do drugs is a waste of money, but there’s already a larger economic cost to businesses losing customers because people are shooting up in nearby alleys, emergency workers who accidentally get stuck with a needle, and more.
“I’ve got two young girls. I don’t want them to go the park and be exposed to things little kids shouldn’t have to be exposed to. If we ignore the problems that’s where it ends up, in parks and back alleys, outside places of business.”
Red Deer Coalition on the Opioid Crisis plans to host community consultations in August before submitting its findings to the province.