PHOTOS: Take a tour of Calgary's first permanent supervised consumption site
A temporary site has been visited more than 2,500 times since it opened in Calgary's Belitline community last year
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Only an opaque door with ‘Safeworks’ written on it in a quiet corner of the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre downtown advertises Calgary’s first permanent supervised consumption site.
The facility, where people can come and use their own illicit substances in a medically supervised environment, officially opens its doors on Monday.
Claire O’Gorman, program coordinator of AHS’ Safeworks, said a temporary site in the Chumir’s parking lot has been visited more than 2,500 times since it opened in November, and 55 overdoses have been reversed within the trailer’s walls – only five of which needed an EMS response.
“There’s been 55 lives saved already,” O’Gorman said. “We really are making a difference here in our community … it’s not going to be the silver bullet, but it’s a really important piece of beginning to address the opioid crisis as well as all of the other challenges that can come with substance use.”
According to the most recent provincial report on substance misuse, 68 people in Calgary died from fentanyl-related overdoses in the third quarter of 2017, compared to 39 in Edmonton.
Overdose deaths related to opioids in Alberta jumped 40 per cent in 2017 compared to the previous year, from 346 in the first nine months of 2016 to 482 in the same period.
The final count from last year is expected to be released in the coming months.
Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said there continues to be a high need for these services in Calgary.
“Now that the permanent site will be opening, we’ll see a little bit of that pressure easing – but we’re going to keep our eyes on the situation and move forward as we need to," Payne told reporters during a tour of the permanent site.
She said the future of the temporary trailer is still being determined, but it could be re-purposed in another area of the city.
“We’ll be continuing to work with community partners,” Payne said. “We’re looking forward to having more of these services set up where it makes sense for the communities.”
The permanent site inside the Chumir expands the current capacity from four consumption booths to six and has a bigger monitoring room.
The bright, open space with images of the Rocky Mountains on the walls looks like any doctor's office waiting room.
O’Gorman said they’ve been able to keep up with demand for services so far, but more than 300 different individuals have been using the service – a number that has been steadily increasing.
“The space in this new facility will be nice, we have a little more room in here,” O’Gorman said.
She added more than 100 naloxone kits a month are being distributed by site staff.
Two nurses and an administrative staff member are on deck at all times, while various social workers and other harm reduction professionals to meet with clients or help them find other services they may need in the healthcare system.
Leslie Hill, executive director of HIV Community Link and member of the Calgary Coalition on Supervised Consumption (CCSC), told Metro in October that the need for the service is so great that it’s a question of when and how, not if, Calgary will apply to open more sites.
“Here in Calgary, the areas that need supervised consumption services are more diverse and cover a larger geographical area, so we have to think about that,” Hill said at the time.
“Calgary has the highest number of overdoses in the province and that number continues to increase.”
Construction on the permanent facility inside the Chumir’s main building was funded with $2.2 million from the province.