Premier Jason Kenney is making life-or-death decisions as his government looks at relocating or closing some drug consumption sites, say harm reduction advocates.
The lives of at least 243 Red Deerians are at stake, said Deborah Watson, of the Moms Stop the Harm group.
That’s how many people used the overdose prevention site in December, when there were 5,076 overall visits, according to the Turning Point Society of Central Alberta.
Without a centralized location where drugs can be taken indoors and under observation, drug use would once again spill out into the community: “They would be making the whole city an unsafe injection site,” said Watson, who has two adult children dealing with drug addictions — one having relapsed recently after many years of staying clean.
“I am hoping to see some empathy and compassion (from the government) … As we like to say: Dead people don’t recover …”
Kenney said earlier this week that it’s possible that at least some of the safe consumption sites will be relocated in Alberta.
The premier added, while it was never the government intention to shut all of the sites, “we’re taking a very close look based on the data” resulting from a government-commissioned study on these sites.
Kenney added the results should be made public in a few weeks. But the premier warned that negative social effects of safe consumption sites, including increased crime and property damage, were among the findings.
Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point, said she has to remain optimistic that Red Deer’s overdose prevention site — which took three years to get off the ground — will be allowed to continue operating.
The evidence shows it saves lives, she stressed, since Red Deer has gone from having the highest overdose death rate in the province to one of the lowest. At the site, drug users are observed while taking previously obtained drugs, and are later monitored for adverse events.
There’s often a lineup of people waiting outside the site for one of the four spots inside. Carmichael is hoping an expanded supervised consumption site can open in a renovated location around the corner from the existing location.
She feels this would add some badly needed wrap-around services and help clients transition away from drug use.
As well, if more addicted clients used drugs within the contained supervised consumption site, she said more used needles would be collected on the premises, so there would be less needle debris scattered around the city.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is against losing the supervised consumption site in the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre. In fact, Nenshi feels Calgary would benefit from having a second site, so all the social disorder isn’t concentrated around the one location.
But Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said our city is different than Calgary, which has addictions treatment as well as a supervised consumption site. This city has neither.
She noted this city’s overdose prevention site was only supposed to be a temporary measure.
Veer added while it’s reportedly saved lives, it’s also polarized the community, resulting in a rise in social disorder problems in the area. They mayor said there was no security on site — a statement that was later refuted by Carmichael who said there are two hired security guards on duty 24/7.
City council had wanted the overdose prevention site to be located on hospital grounds, but this was vetoed by the last provincial government, which instead located it behind Superstore.
Many local businesses have since complained that it’s added to crime in the downtown.
Veer stressed she and council are still pushing for all four pillars of harm reduction to be adopted.
Gaining the wrap-around services that could lead some addicted people into treatment wouldn’t necessarily help unless Red Deer also had an addictions treatment centre, added Veer.
Council is waiting to see the results of the provincial review before making further judgments.