Red Deer city councillors are hopeful provincial review will point to need for local drug treatment centre

Menahile, there’s concern about continued overdose deaths

Some Red Deer city councillors are concerned the community will continue to lead the province in fentanyl deaths, as the province reviews Red Deer’s safe drug consumption site.

But they are hoping the review draws provincial attention to the local needle debris crisis and lack of a residential drug treatment facility.

Coun. Michael Dawe said Red Deer has the most fentanyl deaths in the province “and that’s not going away.”

He noted the United Conservatives went into the provincial election promising to review safe consumption sites and received a public mandate to do it.

Dawe said the city will have an overdose prevention site, which is funded to operate in portables in the Safe Harbour parking lot, until this fall. But he wonders what will happen in the longer term.

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said, “People are continuing to die every day… And if you speak to the workers, they believe the (safe consumption site) will save lives…”

But while she feels for the families of these addicted people, Wyntjes said she also feels for people who are beset by crime and needle debris.

There’s a perception that halting the opening of the local safe injection site will decrease used needle debris in the city.

Yet the needle problem is connected to harm reduction groups being allowed to distribute thousands of free needles to drug addicts, said Wyntjes — even though only a third of these are returned to collection boxes.

Coun. Ken Johnston noted that used needles are turning up in the downtown and parks and trails — even though the site hasn’t yet opened. Halting the facility maintains the status quo, he added.

“The sad reality is it will be as bleak as it has been. It’s a real shame…”

The councillors, as well as Mayor Tara Veer, hope the provincial review of safe consumption sites will make the provincial government more aware of the local needle debris crisis and lack of a residential drug treatment facility.

Johnston said he hopes the provincial review will provide an opportunity for “some perspective” — a chance to look at all the ways of dealing with addiction, including prevention and treatment.

Dawe said it’s high time Red Deer was funded for a residential treatment centre, since the lack of one has been apparent for the past 15 years.

As to the needle debris, Veer said Red Deer city council will be sending a letter to the new health minister asking for the government to provide — and fully pay for — an ongoing strategy for the clean up of the dangerous debris that’s littering municipalities.

This made-in-Red Deer resolution will be voted on by other municipalities at the next Alberta Urban Municipalities Association meeting this fall.

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