Red Deer’s temporary overdose prevention site has reached its third anniversary.
Central Alberta’s only OPS opened its doors on Oct. 1, 2018 and has since had a total of 116,358 visits and 3,553 overdoses reversed, said Turning Point Society in a statement Friday.
“I’m glad we’ve been able to provide this service, as it’s saved so many lives and made so many connections for people. That said, I look forward to the day we’re able to enhance the OPS to a SCS (supervised consumption site) that provides even more robust supports,” said Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point which runs the overdose prevention site.
The OPS was initially set up as a temporary health service intended to quickly respond to Red Deer’s increased overdose fatalities. Simultaneously, Turning Point was working with the provincial government and the City of Red Deer towards a SCS.
Turning Point said a SCS would provide a long-term service delivery, with access to additional supports – including social work, counselling, and opioid dependency treatment – all under one roof. But work stalled when the province started a province-wide review of these services.
“We will continue to work with a variety of stakeholders on the addition of an SCS in Red Deer. The OPS was never intended to stay open this long, but it goes to show how essential these services are and how resilient our community is that we’ve remained operational for three years,” Carmichael said.
“The OPS will always be a safe, open, non-judgmental space and an integral part of a community solution to an ongoing opioid epidemic,” said Sarah Fleck, OPS clinical manager.
Fleck said the OPS remains just as critical to the community today, as Albertans “are still dying at an unprecedented rate.”
In 2018, there were 806 opioid-related deaths within Alberta. In 2020, Alberta had more than 1,100 opioid-related deaths.
“We need more open conversations, less stigma, more hope, less judgement,” Fleck said.
Craig Rompain, who has been using OPS services since it opened, said having access to the site has been imperative.
“Considering they’ve saved my life on multiple occasions, their purpose within our community is undeniable. The OPS is absolutely vital in keeping people alive and in helping them maintain a safe practice,” Rompain said.
Fleck said staff at the OPS care for, and work with, some of the most amazing, creative, intelligent, resilient people she has ever met.
“It’s an honour to be a part of their journey, and I’m so grateful for our caring, empathetic, strong, empowering team,” Fleck said.
The OPS, which currently operates out of the Safe Harbour Society property, employs over 50 staff, made up of registered nurses, advanced care paramedics, and support staff.