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Opening Red Deer’s safe consumption site would reduce strain on system during COVID-19, says advocate

Alberta should give also give addicts clean drugs, added Deborah Watson
A member of Moms Stop the Harm believes now is a critical time to open Red Deer’s Supervised Consumption Site, which would replace this Overdose Prevention Centre, having greater capacity and wrap-around services. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer needs a permanent supervised drug consumption site more than ever during the COVID-19 outbreak, says a member of a Canadian network of families whose loved ones have died because of drugs.

Deborah Watson of Moms Stop the Harm believes Premier Jason Kenney should not only open the local supervised consumption site, to prevent more drug overdoses that could further strain the hospital’s workload, but go a step further.

She thinks he should follow the example of Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart and give addicts who aren’t already connected to a health-care system a safe supply of drugs, free, in preference to dangerous fentanyl.

Since emergency workers need to focus on viral cases at this time, “do you really want people breaking into people’s cars, stealing to get drugs?” added Watson.

Besides lessening demands on the health-care system, experts believe the clean drug handouts could also connect more addicted people with harm reduction groups and, hopefully, treatment, she said.

Last spring, Kenney froze funding for new supervised consumption services — including Red Deer’s — before it could open in a permanent location, with wrap-around services and a greater capacity.

Instead, Red Deerians with drug addictions continue to use the limited services of the overdose prevention site, which is operating out of a trailer at the Safe Harbour parking lot.

The government has since undertaken a supervised drug consumption site review that many advocates say was based on flawed assumptions.

Watson supports an open letter sent this week to Kenney by 30 organizations who outlined “grave concerns” with Alberta’s review.

They question why the report’s parameters were limited to “potential social and economic impacts without considering the overall health benefits … on people who use drugs.

The groups object to a panel member’s suggestion that overdose stat were being inflated, saying reporting is done under Alberta Health guidelines.

They are also critical of a suggestion that supervised drug consumption site access be reduced to people who use methamphetamine, out of fears of public nuisance.

And their letter slams the panel for suggesting that needle distribution be replaced with a needle exchange (which the groups maintain has led to more HIV infections), and that would requiring clients to present identification, when anonymity is preferred.

“Many… findings in the report are based on the opinion of participants rather than on facts,” states the letter that urges that provincial policy be evidence based.

Kassandra Kitz, spokesperon for Alberta Mental Health and Addictions, said the government stands behind its review of supervised consumption sites.

The panel included physicians, scientists and first responders, “who listened to and collected the views and experiences of 19,000 Albertans,” added Kitz.

She maintained the government makes decisions that consider the views of Albertans and “local needs and realities in each city…. At this point, government is focused on responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic and has not yet made any decisions regarding the sites.”

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Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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