Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is helping lead the charge against Red Deer’s Overdose Prevention Site.
He’s encouraging Red Deerians through social media to come out to Monday’s council meeting when councillors will be voting on a motion to “transition” the OPS out of Red Deer by the end of 2024.
“I will be there,” said Stephan, who feels the OPS site “has emboldened law breaking, increased crime, vandalism and disorder, destroyed businesses, and depressed land values in Red Deer.”
This Notice of Motion was presented last month by Councillor Vesna Higham, who favours the recovery model of drug treatment. Rather than having the OPS, Higham wants council to urge the government to substantially increase supports for mental health and to “better address the root causes” of drug and alcohol addictions.
Stephan calls it the “NDP OPS” because it was opened in 2018 under the former New Democrat government after the start of the opioid epidemic. The local MLA spoke in legislature recently about how the facility has increased crime and driven businesses out of downtown Red Deer.
Stacey Carmichael, the former executive director of Turning Point, which formerly ran the OPS, takes exception to his statements.
“You are not being truthful,” she commented on Stephan’s Facebook page. Illicit drug use will continue with or without the OPS, so “things will not improve,” Carmichael stated in her comment to Stephan — “unless you really want people who use drugs to die?”
The OPS does not distribute free drugs. Users bring in their own substances and take them under supervision so that if overdoses happen, they can be reversed before causing fatalities.
The OPS team has successfully reversed 514 opioid poisonings since June 1, 2023, with the use of oxygen and/or naloxone, according to data obtained from Alberta Health Services and compiled by the city’s Chief of Staff, Sean McIntyre and research and policy specialist Colin Cannon. It will be presented to city council on Monday.
The OPS team has also made 2,569 referrals to recovery-oriented services for clients since AHS assumed operation of the facility in June. Examples of these services include withdrawal management, bed-based addiction treatment, housing, ID services, and opioid agonist treatment (OAT) medication.
Since the OPS is operated by AHS, the report states there is increased accessibility to other services such as addictions counselling and social services navigation assistance.
The OPS’s on-site peer support workers (including an Indigenous peer support worker) provide transportation for OPS clients to access bed-based addiction treatment, medical, social services, addiction and mental health appointments and groups.
However, according to Higham in her Notice of Motion, the OPS has inflicted “intolerable” harm on the community with crime, vandalism, fires, needle debris and aggressive behaviours. Higham supports harm reduction that focuses on health, wellness and recovery — including more detox capacity, medication-assisted treatments, recovery coaches, counsellors and “culturally appropriate health and wellness supports.”
As well as wanting council to support lobbying the province to “transition” the OPS out of Red Deer, her motion also calls for provincial grants for a continuous police presence around the current OPS and temporary shelter until the crime and social disorder impacts are better mitigated.
The public portion of Monday’s city council meeting starts at 1 p.m.