Coun. Ken Johnston (File photo by Lana Michelin/Advocate staff).

Red Deer councillors saddened, frustrated by fentanyl deaths

Coun. Ken Johnston says the reported 11 fentanyl deaths in Red Deer so far this year are tragic

As fentanyl deaths continue to soar in Red Deer, councillors are both concerned and frustrated.

There were 25 fentanyl deaths in Red Deer in 2017 – the second highest rate among Alberta cities. There has been 11 deaths so far in 2018, according to Turning Point, a local harm reduction group.

“That’s 11 stories of people who were burdened by these demons. It spread into mothers, father, brothers, sisters – this wider circle which makes it even more tragic,” said Coun. Ken Johnston.

READ MORE: Red Deer sees more fentanyl deaths

Johnston said council is pressing to bring a safe consumption site to Red Deer.

On Monday, members of council met with Brandy Payne, Alberta associate minister of health, to discuss their frustrations.

“There’s a tremendous amount of concern and passion on council,” Johnston said. “We find ourself as a municipality dealing with a health issue that should be and could be addressed by the provincial health authority.”

A safe consumption site opened in Lethbridge just over a week ago.

In January, council changed local bylaws to make way for a mobile supervised injection site.

“We’ve asked the province to recognize it as a health issue, we’ve zoned a health facility for it and yet we find ourselves trying to deal with it,” Johnston said.

READ MORE: Lethbridge opens safe consumption site

The issue is not just about having a safe consumption site, it’s also about treating people, said Johnston.

With Red Deer’s high fentanyl-related overdose deaths, the Alberta government encouraged Turning Point to explore the logistics of starting a safe drug consumption site in Red Deer.

Turning Point looked to open a downtown site by spring, but the city didn’t approve a potential downtown location. Council instead chose Red Deer hospital and/or its parking lot late last year.

In response, Turning Point stated it wasn’t interested in operating at the hospital, which is too far for many drug users to access.

“I’m optimistic we’re coming to a place where we can get this thing solved,” said Johnston.

“Harm reduction through supervised consumption does work,” he said. “All of council cares about the health, safety and well-being of people on this road.”

Coun. Buck Buchanan said he was saddened reading about this year’s 11 fentanyl deaths.

“No one wants to see anyone die from anything, whether it’s fentanyl, flu or car accidents,” said Buchanan.

“It’s a tough world to live in. These people are fighting their demons and in these particular cases, their demons are killing them,” he said.

Coun. Tanya Handley said the fentanyl crisis in the community is alarming. Council has opened up opportunities to have a safe consumption site in the future, she added.

Handley said she hasn’t yet heard if an official mobile safe consumption site application is going forward, but that will likely be the next step for seeing that type of service in Red Deer.

“We need to have the province step up as well,” Handley said. “Alberta Health Services wanted nothing to do with operating [a supervised consumption site] in our area and I believe in other cities they’re directly involved in that.”

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