Red Deerians with family members struggling with opioid addiction are shocked that the United Conservative Party may stand in the way of a supervised drug consumption site in the city.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney has said his party would oppose the opening of more sites, and Red Deer has yet to open its location, which would provide more services than its existing overdose prevention facility.
“It feels like a kick in the stomach to everybody who’s lost someone. Their lives matter. They mattered to somebody,” said Deborah Watson, central Alberta spokeswoman with Moms Stop the Harm.
“We’re talking about a life-saving measure. It’s vital,” said Watson, who compared the life-saving capacity of drug consumption sites to defibrillators in malls.
In 2018, the number of people dying from fentanyl overdoses in Red Deer doubled to 47.
She said families who have been advocating for Red Deer’s overdose prevention site are upset that the city may lose it before it even opens.
“I understand everyone is entitled to their opinion, but you can’t debate facts. The facts are these save lives,” Watson said.
City Coun. Ken Johnston said limiting consumption sites won’t help solve the opioid addiction problem, which is a public health issue.
“Without support, cities are left to deal with what has now become a very, very pronounced provincial and national health crisis. That’s my concern,” Johnston said.
Plans are already moving forward to renovate and open Red Deer’s consumption site and Johnston hoped work would be allowed to continue.
Red Deer city council approved the business licence for the drug consumption site in January, after a few years of trying to find a location. Businesses in Rail Lands, where a building is to be renovated for the site, are against the project.
Turning Point, the agency that will operate the safe consumption site, funded by Alberta Health, declined to comment.
City Coun. Vesna Higham said there is a role for safe drug consumption sites to play in the spectrum of health-care services, but adequate treatment services must also be available and they have been lacking in Red Deer.
“Without (treatment) emphasis, then the safe consumption services is just a revolving door that people rarely get out of,” Higham said.
She said as long as people are stuck in that revolving door, crime will continue to impact citizens and people struggling with addiction are still going to lose their lives. Many have been saved by consumption sites, but only a small percentage of people use them.
“It has a proven record of saving lives, but in isolation, I’m opposed to the manner in which safe consumption sites have been rolled out across our province without commensurate focus on treatment.”
— With files from The Canadian Press