Sarah Fleck, Turning Point’s clinical manager, said the Overdose Prevention Site prevented 30 overdose deaths last week, caused by more potent opioid street drugs. (Advocate file photo)

Sarah Fleck, Turning Point’s clinical manager, said the Overdose Prevention Site prevented 30 overdose deaths last week, caused by more potent opioid street drugs. (Advocate file photo)

More dangerous opioids caused 30 overdoses last week in Red Deer: OPS manager

Even long-term street drug users are O.D.-ing, says Sarah Fleck

More deadly opioid street drugs caused 30 overdoses in Red Deer last week, says a manager at the Overdose Prevention Site.

“It’s important to let people know there are stronger opioids in town and they have contaminated the drug supply,” said Sarah Fleck, clinical manager at Turning Point. “People don’t know what they are getting…”

Even long-time drug users, who have a higher tolerance for fentanyl, are overdosing, she added.

Last weekend, the situation at Red Deer’s OPS was grim: “From Nov. 19 to 21 we’ve had a big spike in overdoses. In one shift, eight people overdosed in an eight hour period,” said Fleck.

So far, all 30 people who overdosed were successfully resuscitated with oxygen and naloxone administered by workers at the overdose prevention site.

Fleck credits her staff, and encourages more community members to carry naloxone kits. They are available from pharmacies or Turning Point. “Anyone who is using drugs is susceptible to O.D.-ing.”

Turning Point’s executive-director Stacey Carmichael believes last week’s situation shows how essential OPS services are for saving lives in Red Deer.

But working conditions at the OPS continue to be far from ideal. While Turning Point workers continue trying to try to prevent drug-related deaths they are operating out of a temporary space — an aging ATCO trailer owned by Alberta Health Services.

Space in the trailer is limited, preventing access to many clients who need the OPS, added Carmichael. And the latest glitch is a broken furnace.

Turning Point employees have been working with several space heaters as managers discuss the problem with AHS. Fleck was told furnace parts have been ordered and it should be fixed soon.

But Carmichael is concerned that Turning Point recently marked its third anniversary in the trailer without a more permanent space in sight.

The non-profit was supposed to move into a renovated building northwest of Superstore to open a supervised consumption site with a wider range of services.

But the OPS ignited division in the community — particularly from business owners in the area. And the provincial government stalled the move, saying an Alberta-wide review of Safe Consumption Sites was needed on their impacts and effectiveness.

The study was completed but no conversations have happened about moving into a permanent space, or expanding to a Supervised Consumption site, said Carmichael. She remains willing to work with stakeholders towards this goal.

But Eric Engler, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, indicated on Tuesday the government is dealing with the opioid crisis differently.

“It was communicated to (Turning Point) a year-and-a-half ago, in their grant agreement, that we would not be moving forward with funding for the proposed supervised consumption site in Red Deer. There is no change to the current overdose prevention site,” said Engler.

The government is instead making a significant investment in treatment and recovery resources in Red Deer with the construction of the new 75-bed recovery community, he added.

Several UCP ministers, along with MLA Jason Stephan and Mayor Ken Johnston, kicked off construction with a ground breaking last week. Treatment at this recovery community will be fully funded, said Engler.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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