Safe injection site a must: CAANS

A safe injection site in Red Deer could keep drug users off of private property, according to the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society.

A safe injection site in Red Deer could keep drug users off of private property, according to the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society.

Jennifer Vandershaege, CAANS executive director, said on Wednesday that offering safe injection facilities should be in the future of local support for drug users.

“Safe injection programming in Central Alberta would be something we want within the next five or 10 years,” said Vandershaege. “I don’t think Red Deer would be first in Alberta, it may be second or third.

“The program would be one of the services we (CAANS) provide or one of the services the street clinic provides. It’s one of the pieces.”

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer is wary of a safe or supervised injection site.

“Whether it is allowing a safe injection site or a graffiti wall, there is often a halo effect of activity, which occurs when you legitimize one use within a specific location,” said Veer. “There is often an unanticipated halo effect of that negative activity.

“I would be cautious in pursuing solutions that may have unintended consequences.”

Tenants of the River Valley Apartments in downtown Red Deer are frustrated and fearful as the result of people coming into their hallways and stairwells, using needle-injected street drugs and then discarding the needles on the floor.

Stan Schalk, co-owner of Potter’s Hands Developments, which includes the River Valley Apartments, said on Wednesday that they are going to get security at the building.

“We are hiring a security company to walk through the building a couple of times a night,” said Schalk. “The issue isn’t so much for the tenants we have, it’s the people getting into the building. It’s more of an issue of homelessness downtown and where do they go.”

Schalk said he is trying, but admits it is tough to keep up with the damage and the garbage, adding it’s not the only building with people coming in.

Vandershaege stressed that a safe injection sight in Red Deer wouldn’t be like Insight in Vancouver, which is simply a place to do injections and dispose of needles. It would also offer support for people who use drugs.

The Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation would be closer to a model that could be implemented in Alberta, she said. That is an overarching support organization that provides safe and supervised injection site and other support services for drug users to deal with their addictions.

“The real piece that safe injection programming brings is around relationship building so that when people are ready to quit they have people in their world who are there for them,” said Vandershaege.

“People who use drugs are incredibly marginalized and people treat them very badly every day. What we do is really try to build a relationship with them so they trust us and we can use that credibility and support for them so that when they are ready to quit or change what they’re using or make any positive impact in their life, we can do that.”

She said there aren’t a lot of people in the drug users’ world who don’t judge them.

“That’s the harm reduction philosophy — we’re not here to judge people who use drugs and it would be great if they quit,” said Vandershaege, adding the reality is they’re trying to prevent death and the spread of diseases like HIV, hepatitis C or AIDS.

A safe injection site would provide a way to properly dispose of needles and could prevent users from going to the River Valley Apartments as they would have another place to go.

She said CAANS gives out about 29,000 new needles every month. There are nine needle drop boxes in Red Deer, with one ready to be moved to a new location.

“The reality is we have hundreds of injection drug users in town and in Central Alberta,” said Vandershaege.

“One thing we’d really like to do is have conversations with people who use drugs to support them in being good neighbours.”

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