Red Deer’s temporary overdose prevention facility has often been running at capacity as the community waits for the results of a provincial review on supervised drug consumption sites.
In May, the UCP government halted funding for new consumption sites until a review was conducted, which affected proposed sites for Red Deer, Medicine Hat and a mobile facility in Calgary.
Red Deer’s harm reduction agency Turning Point was ready to go out to tender to turn a building at 5233 54th Ave., northwest of Superstore, into a supervised consumption site when the review was announced.
Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point, said asking clients to wait to use one of the four booths at the temporary site is not always a good option, and it would be better to have a larger, permanent site.
“Sometimes, it’s a bit tricky. The overdose prevention site is not designed as a permanent site, or to offer the whole spectrum of services. But we have amazing staff inside, and outside the facility, that work to mitigate any troubles that might present themselves,” Carmichael said.
In December, there were 5,076 visits to the site, an average of 164 per day. There were 243 people who visited, 78 overdoses, and no fatalities.
“The site is busy and it’s doing what it needs to do, and that’s ensuring folks stay alive, and within its limited capacity, making connections.”
She said funding for the site was only in place until March and hopes the review will be available soon.
Turning Point is still ready to proceed with plans for its permanent site, she said.
“We could flip that switch back on and get it going again relatively quickly, assuming there’s not a whole lot of change from the review.
“We have a lot of things in place around security and safety, and pathways to treatment, so I can’t think of what else they might want.”
Finding a location for the permanent site was a challenge, but since it has already been approved, Carmichael assumes the site would still be a good location.
In a statement to The Advocate, the provincial government said Health Minister Tyler Shandro has received the report of the expert panel.
The province will review the report over the coming weeks and consider decisions on supervised consumption sites as part of the 2020-21 budget.
Funding for existing supervised consumption sites will be maintained through March 31.
The 2019 third quarter Alberta Opioid Response Surveillance Report, released late last month, showed 12 fentanyl-related deaths in Red Deer from January to September, up from five deaths in the first six months.
In 2016 and 2018, the city had the highest fatality rate with 23 and 46 deaths respectively. In 2017, with 23 deaths, it had the second highest rate.
Carmichael said the harm reduction and treatment services that are being offered are definitely making a difference.
Alberta had 337 deaths in 2019 as of September. In 2018, there were 588 over the entire year.