Sometimes municipalities know the best solution to their drug problems, according to Donald MacPherson, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition director.
MacPherson was the keynote speaker at a daylong workshop on Thursday in Red Deer.
The city’s Social Planning Department sees the workshop as an opportunity to involve as many social groups as possible in the development of a drugs and alcohol abuse road map.
“You have some significant issues around substance abuse problems in Red Deer and they aren’t going to go away, they’re probably only going to get worse,” said MacPherson.
“People are probably only going to get more marginalized and more ill and more problematic the less people deal with it.”
Scott Cameron, Red Deer’s Social Planning Department manager, said the workshop was about gathering perspectives from community members about drug and alcohol abuse.
“It is a sensitive issue, people may have strong feelings on one side or the other, so part of this is about understanding the conversation,” said Cameron.
“Where is the common ground, where do we start in terms of developing some sort of road map?”
Up to this point, there have been some focus groups the city has talked with in regards to developing a strategy.
The city is analyzing the focus group data.
“This is a broader community conversation and from the city’s perspective, we’ll continue to work with the various community partners to analyze what we’re hearing and see where that takes us,” said Cameron.
MacPherson’s experience in Vancouver translates into Red Deer’s development of the strategy.
“Developing a successful strategy takes political leadership, political buy-in, leadership at all levels for bringing sectors together, involving people who use drugs in the discussion so you know you’re not missing the mark and keeping the process going,” said MacPherson.
“It is a complex issue, you will never have 100 per cent consensus. How do you get close enough to consensus before you move things forward?”
MacPherson said Red Deer is way ahead of similar sized cities just by talking about the problem and working on developing a strategy.
“Red Deer is doing a lot of the groundwork here,” said MacPherson, adding the next important step would be to get some financial support from the provincial government.
“It was an important enough topic that council wanted to have a conversation about it,” said Cameron. “Instead of continually talking rhetorically about it, let’s have a real honest conversation about what does this mean to us.”
The information gathered from the workshop today will be considered by the department and then brought back out to the community again for reaction and discussion.