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Red Deer’s overdose prevention site stays put for now under AHS management

Alberta Health Services takes over site operations May 31
Alberta Health Services is working to take over the operation of Red Deer’s overdose prevention site on May 31. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Red Deer’s overdose prevention site will remain in its current location for the time being while Alberta Health Services takes over the operation of the service on May 31.

In February, the provincial government announced that the site run by community harm reduction agency Turning Point will transition to a mobile site operated by AHS.

AHS said in a statement that alternative locations for the long-term operation of the service may be considered, but no decision on a change in location within Red Deer has been made at this time.

“AHS will continue to work with government and the city on any changes in location based on input from the municipality ­and the changing needs of the community,” AHS said.

“Regardless of where the service is provided, the care and safety of our clients, staff and neighbours is a priority.”

AHS said it will be making some enhancements to the current site for the safety of not only clients and staff, but for neighbours.


Reaction to changes coming to Red Deer’s overdose prevention site

AHS is hiring registered nurses, paramedics and client care assistants for the Red Deer Opioid Dependency Program. Existing Turning Point staff with relevant training and qualifications are welcome to apply for the positions.

“AHS continues to work closely with our partners, including government and Turning Point, to transition operations of the overdose prevention site in Red Deer as seamlessly as possible,” AHS said.

AHS said there will be no changes to the hours operation nor to client access. The same services will be provided.

Turning Point took on the operation of the temporary overdose prevention site (OPS), located in an ATCO trailer in Safe Harbour Society’s parking lot, on Oct. 1, 2018 in response to community concerns about the rising rate of overdose fatalities.

As of Jan. 31, the OPS has had 168,957 site visits, and medical staff have reversed 5,490 suspected overdoses, including 5,003 requiring oxygen and 1,564 requiring naloxone.

The site is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 5246 53rd Ave.


Opioid-related deaths escalate in Red Deer during 2022

Reed Charbonneau, interim executive director at Turning Point, said provisions are in place to extend Turning Point operations beyond the end of May, depending on AHS readiness.

“The toxic drug crisis continues to rage and, within that context, the OPS’s work is literally lifesaving,” said Charbonneau in a statement.

Opioid-related deaths increased by 20 per cent in Red Deer last year. According to the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System, 47 people died in 2022, up from 39 in 2021.

In January 2023, 110 people died in Alberta, including three in Red Deer.

Turning Point is prioritizing working with stakeholders to mitigate any greater community impacts potentially resulting from the transition. Concerns include the potential for increased opioid poisonings away from the site, and the potential impact from a reduction in Turning Point’s capacity to liaise with the general community regarding substance use related issues.

“A changeover of this sort is an involved process and we are collaborating closely with AHS to promote a seamless transition, which will maintain the quality and scope of the care and supports we provide. This collaboration has been positive and fruitful, and we are cautiously hopeful that the same level of service will be delivered under the new provider.”

He said Turning Point is working with AHS to ensure that the crucial health and social supports offered by Turning Point’s office and outreach-based programs will continue to be readily available to OPS clients, along with all populations it serves.

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Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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