Red Deer’s Overdose Prevention Centre can now serve fewer clients each day, because of social distancing measures. Turning Point staff say this is leading to more overdoses in the community. (Advocate file photo).

More drug overdoses are happening in Red Deer with fewer admissions to OPS

Distancing requirements mean only two booths are now operational out of four

Social distancing requirements are proving dangerous for many Red Deer drug users.

Since four client booths were reduced to two at the overdose prevention site in late March, in compliance with provincial requirements for slowing the spread of COVID-19, more overdoses have been happening in the community, says Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point, which operates the facility.

Staff have been called to reverse more off-site overdoses, and they have heard many of their clients speak about having to administer naloxone more frequently to keep their friends alive.

“It’s a very traumatic experience,” said Carmichael. “I can’t imagine how they must feel…”

Kath Hoffman, executive director of the Safe Harbour Society, which operates a nearby homeless shelter, said her employees have also been responding to more overdoses in the area around Superstore.

Since the overdose prevention site went to having two booths, instead of four, “we’ve seen the difference,” Hoffman said.

Although the provincial government has not yet released the number of overdose fatalities for this area in the first quarter of the year, Carmichael knows of three people who have fatally OD-ed in the city since mid-March.

About 2,500 clients use Turning Point’s harm reduction services. Carmichael said many of these people hold down regular jobs and pay rent or a mortgage, while others are homeless.

To keep clients alive in the hope they will eventually be ready to deal with their addiction, Turning Point is operating a temporary overdose prevention site in a trailer on Safe Harbour’s grounds.

Two people at a time now can be admitted to use their own drugs under the supervision of nurses. This is half the number who could have entered the facility when it had four operating booths.

Carmichael said there were 176 client daily visits on average at the site in the busy month of January, when four booths were operational.

In April, when the site was down to two booths, there were about 94 client visits a day.

Carmichael believes this decrease is corresponding with more reports of overdoses in the community.

Meanwhile, Turning Point’s larger permanent supervised consumption site still sits empty, waiting for provincial approval to open. The government is still studying the impacts of such facilities.

Carmichael believes opening the supervised consumption site would help the local overdose situation immeasurably.

Vancouver is now providing drug users with a safe supply to prevent additional strain on the health system during the pandemic. Carmichael said Calgary and Edmonton are running similar pilot projects, and she believes Red Deer would benefit from one too.

She thinks part of the overdose problem could be due to a break in the usual supply of illegal drugs with the closure of the U.S. border.

Carmichael believes some people are getting their street drugs from new sources, which are adding fatal traces of fentanyl or carfentanil.

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