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Edmonton, Lethbridge first supervised consumption sites approved in Alberta

Approval for Calgary’s first supervised consumption site is anticipated by the end of October

Brandy Payne, Associate Minister of Health, says Health Canada is expected to approve a supervised consumption site for Calgary soon.

JENNIFER FRIESEN/FOR METRO / FOR METRO

Brandy Payne, Associate Minister of Health, says Health Canada is expected to approve a supervised consumption site for Calgary soon.

Health Canada has approved four applications to offer supervised consumption services in Edmonton and one in Lethbridge, making them the first cities in Alberta to offer supervised consumption services.

Calgary’s is the only outstanding application, but Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said its approval is anticipated soon.

“We fully expect that a sixth location, located in Calgary’s Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, will also receive federal approval by the end of this month,” Payne said at the announcement on Wednesday.

A community coalition in Calgary is assessing the need for additional services, she added, and Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray, and Edson are also considering their own applications.

According to the province, 315 people have died in Alberta from fentanyl-related overdoses between Jan. 1 and Aug. 12 of this year.

That number will likely change as the chief medical examiner’s office determines the cause of death in additional suspected fentanyl overdose victims.

Some areas are being hit harder than others; in Calgary, rate of fentanyl-related deaths is 14.8 per 100,000 population (149 lives in total) and Edmonton’s is 11.4 (96 lives). The provincial average is 11.9.

In the South Zone, the rate is 8.5, or 16 people, and those are only the deaths confirmed related to fentanyl; a rate for opioid-related deaths is not available.

Alberta Liberal leader and health critic Dr. David Swann called said the approved sites are welcome news, but questioned ‘continued delays’ in the application process.

“The lack of sites for Calgary, where opioid overdoses continue to claim the most lives, is troubling,” Swann said. “As I’ve said before – access to harm reduction measures must be further expanded.”

He’s glad to see a site opening in Lethbridge, but said other smaller urban centres and rural areas also need their own services.

Local community organization ARCHES will operate the site in downtown Lethbridge, which is expected to open by early 2018. The sites in Edmonton are expected to open in late 2017 or early 2018.

The Edmonton-based community coalition AMSISE (Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton) will operate three of the capital city’s facilities and Alberta Health Services (AHS) will offer the service to in-patients at the Royal Alexandra Hospital – the first acute care hospital in North America to do so.

Both the provincial and federal governments have long emphasized supervised consumption sites are proven to save lives and reduce the impacts of substance abuse on families and communities.

Dr. Elaine Hyshka, co-chair of the Minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission, said they are ‘one of the very few tools we have’ for preventing deaths from overdoses, when they occur.

“There is a substantial body of scientific evidence that shows these services save lives, are cost-effective and help improve individual and the community’s health and safety,” Hyshka said.

“These sites are designed to provide people with life-saving emergency care and connections to substance use treatment and other mental heath supports.”

Individuals bring their own substances to the sites where medical professionals can provide sterile needles and other materials, intervene with Naloxone, an overdose reversing agent, if necessary, and provide links to next-step addiction and mental health supports.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Calgary police chief Roger Chaffin have also expressed their support for the services on multiple occasions in the past.

The Chumir was chosen for the initial site in Calgary because of the unique services it already provides, such as Safeworks (a harm reduction and needle distribution service provided through AHS). Hiring for the site began in September.

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