Deborah Watson, of the national group Moms Stop the Harm, has two children who struggle with addiction and she wants to put a human face to the disease. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

Proposed safe drug consumption service goes to public meeting Tuesday

Pros and cons will be heard by city council at 6 p.m.

A Red Deer mother with two sons who have battled opioid addiction is hoping a permanent safe consumption service can finally open — in the Rail Lands area.

It’s a matter of life and death for people’s sons, daughters, mothers and fathers who did not choose to become opioid addicts, said Deborah Watson.

But she knows many area businesses will strenuously object to a facility opening at 5233-54 Ave., around the corner from Safe Harbour, at a public meeting at City Hall Tuesday.

A petition opposing the site rezoning is already being circulated.

This is the second site Turning Point is proposing for a permanent safe consumption service.

A previous application for an expansion to its existing building on Little Gaetz Avenue to accommodate a facility was rejected by the city last December, after much opposition from area businesses.

Watson, of the national group Moms Stop the Harm, wants to put a human face on the issue by speaking of trying to support two of her four children while they struggle with the “disease of addiction.”

Her oldest son, now 35, became addicted from legal prescriptions after being injured in a “horrific accident” in 2010, said Watson. She recalled how he nearly died from overdoses three times, but was revived by fellow substance abusers since there was not a safe consumption service in Red Deer.

“Thankfully, he was able to access safe supplies without judgment from Turning Point and Safe Harbour until he was ready to go into treatment,” wrote Watson in a letter to the city that supports the proposed safe consumption service location.

Her oldest son has been in recovery for 22 months and is working full-time at Fresh Start Recovery in Calgary, said Watson.

Her youngest son, 21, is serving a 3 1/2-year term in federal prison. While he was using street drugs, he was grateful for the safe supplies and compassionate NightReach staff, but did not have a safe place to use, she added.

“This devastating journey has left our family financially and emotionally broken,” maintains Watson, who believes people oppose the service out of fear and a lack of understanding.

Many feedback letters to the city oppose the site because it is “enabling” drug use. But “we have learned that the substance is often stronger than the person and stronger than the love of their family,” said Watson.

“People who have a substance use disorder can’t stop using, and if there’s no safe place, they use home alone and die,” or put themselves and others at risk by using in public places.

“Without a (facility), the whole city becomes an unsafe consumption site,” maintains Watson, who plans to attend the meeting on Tuesday at City Hall.

Many Rail Lands business and property owners, who object to having a safe consumption service in their neighbourhood, are also attending.

The city received emotional letters, including from members of the Central Alberta Archers Association, which is located close to the proposed site. Carla Hecht, the mother of a 10-year-old autistic boy who loves archery, said she can’t imagine risking her son “walking through needles” and addicts.

Another club member, Derrick Wiebe, who had his truck stolen and totalled by drug users, doesn’t want his kids to come in close contact with addicted people or needle debris. All 11 of his family members would quit the archery association, he wrote, since “we feel the elevated risk isn’t worth it.”

Area businesses, including Pegasus Builders, Prairie Bus Lines and Northwinds Vape, raised concerns to the city of poor lighting in the area, a lack of onsite surveillance, concerns about the “migration” of service users to surrounding businesses, needle debris and an increase in crime and vandalism.

City planners have stated some of these issues could be resolved through terms that the city would attach to the rezoning, development permit and business licence.

As well, Turning Point is proposing to have a “site and community liaison” person as well as a safety co-ordinator to work out community concerns at the new location.

The public meeting starts at 6 p.m.

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