Alarmed by Red Deer’s high overdose death rate, Alberta’s emergency opioid commission is recommending a fixed — rather than mobile — supervised drug consumption site for this city.
That’s what the Turning Point harm reduction agency has been asked for all along, so its executive-director, Stacey Carmichael, was happy with the endorsement.
She noted the commission was “very supportive of our needs assessment” after it was presented to members in January.
On Friday, Dr. Kristin Klein, and Dr. Elaine Hyshka, co-chairs of the Alberta Health Minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission, announced further strategies on curbing the opioid crisis.
The commission acknowledged Red Deer has one of the highest rate of overdose deaths in the province, and recommends a SCS as one way to address these fatalities.
Although the City of Red Deer is now paving the way to allow a mobile SCS to operate out of a trailer, the commission clearly stated its preference was for a fixed site that could operate out of Turning Point’s downtown location.
“Based on all the evidence… a fixed site will best address the service needs of the community,” the report states. Only if this option is “unattainable” does the commission recommend that additional SCS models be considered that “address the needs of service users.”
Carmichael feels a mobile site would be better than nothing, but would “not be ideal.”
A trailer would only have space for two drug users to inject and two to be observed after consuming drugs so they don’t overdose — compared to nine spots in total at a fixed site. There would be no public washroom or showers, or an area where drug users can hang-out after the warming shelter closes.
Carmichael said relationship-building is key to potentially influencing drug users to seek help, and she feels this would be harder to achieve at a mobile facility.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said she was not surprised by the commission’s recommendations, given the frequency of local overdose deaths. Eleven people died already this year.
The mayor noted municipal allowances were made for a fixed SCS to operate on hospital grounds — although Turning Point officials didn’t think this location would be accessed by many clients.
The agency wanted to operate a SCS out of its own downtown location, but council didn’t approve this after hearing much opposition from downtown businesses.
Given the outcome of the public hearing held late last year, Turning Point can either set up a fixed site on hospital grounds, or apply for a mobile SCS unit once the licensing requirements are approved by city council, said Veer. She estimated the issue will come back to council in the next two or three months.
In the meantime, Veer suggested Turning Point prepare for running a SCS by seeking the federal government exemption needed to operate a site upon which illegal drugs can be legally consumed under supervision.