Red Deer businesswoman Reagan Stokes says the province’s decision to put a pause on funding for new supervised drug consumption sites is prudent. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff

Decision to delay opening of Red Deer supervised drug consumption site proves divisive

There’s no agreement about the wisdom of putting funding for new supervised drug consumption sites on hold.

Deborah Watson, central Alberta spokeswoman with Moms Stop the Harm, calls the delay upsetting.

“It’s very sad that all the evidence, and all the testing, and all the rigorous amount of consultations have already been gone through, and they’re talking about reviewing what we’ve already done, and in the meantime, people are dying.

“So it’s astonishing,” she said Wednesday.

One downtown business owner has come face-to-face with drug paraphernalia, needle debris, condoms, clothing and homeless people going through city trash cans on an everyday basis.

Because of these experiences, the proprietor of Reagan’s Dog Zone, located at 4820 47th Ave., is in the middle of moving after being downtown for 18 years.

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Dogs and drugs don’t mix

Reagan Stokes considers the provincial government’s move to be a smart one, saying the drug use facilities can’t just be about assisting those with an addiction, but about helping the entire community.

“Before they proceed, they need to know for sure whether it’s helping or hindering — not only the homeless people — but the people in the area,” said Stokes.

“It can’t just be about the addicts, it has to be about the business owners, the residents, and everyone that uses downtown.”

The United Conservative government is fulfilling its promise to halt funding for new supervised drug consumption sites until a review is conducted. This includes the proposed site for Red Deer, Medicine Hat and a mobile facility in Calgary.

The review does not affect existing facilities, such as Red Deer’s temporary overdose prevention site.

Watson said although the government delivered on an election promise, not everyone would’ve agreed with the party platform 100 per cent.

“I think a lot of people voted for them for certain reasons, but not necessarily every single step in the platform,” she said.

A review takes the process a step back, said Watson, adding the lack of clarity on timelines and how the review will be conducted does not help either.

Watson calls the opioid crisis a public emergency where people are denied care.

“If you ate a bunch of fatty food and had a heart attack, we’re not going to say we’re not going to treat them because of behaviour – we don’t say that – but we do for people who use drugs.

“I would like to think everyone’s lives matter, but it doesn’t appear that way.”

Stokes, meanwhile, points other people with medical needs don’t receive customized treatment.

“Someone that’s having a heart attack doesn’t have a special place to go. They have to call 9-1-1 just like everyone else. So I don’t see why it’s different for someone with an addiction, when someone with a disease or health issues doesn’t get the same precautions.”

Mayor Tara Veer said she presumes the temporary overdose prevention site will continue to operate until the end of September, as it’s not a permanent supervised drug consumption site.

The mayor believes the provincial process will provide further clarity on some of the concerns in Red Deer.

“It will provide the community an opportunity to receive a favourable answer we’ve been looking for, with respect to safer protocols around needle debris in the community and residential treatment – we haven’t received a favourable response (on those issues).”

Turning Point’s executive director, Stacey Carmichael, said the organization is waiting to learn more about the review. Research and consultations have shown the service makes a positive impact in communities and saves lives, so Carmichael remains positive.

“I’m optimistic those things will be taken into consideration and we will proceed,” Carmichael said.

Red Deer business moves away from overdose prevention site

The funding freeze is disappointing for Downtown Business Association executive director Amanda Gould. Although the decision does not affect the temporary overdose prevention site that opened in October, Gould said it’s not ideal.

“We’re left with a model right now that’s running that was only ever designed to be a temporary solution, so that’s a bit of a shame,” Gould added.

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