News / Calgary

Calgary applying to offer mobile supervised consumption services

The province has also opened Alberta's first overdose prevention site on the Kainai First Nation

The Alberta Health Services' Atco trailer has been set up in Stand Off, Alberta as an overdose prevention site.


The Alberta Health Services' Atco trailer has been set up in Stand Off, Alberta as an overdose prevention site.

Supervised consumption services in Calgary could soon be offered from a mobile site.

The province’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission announced today that Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne has accepted all 26 of their recommendations to address the crisis made to-date.

One of those recommendations is to fund applications for supervised consumption sites in Grand Prairie, Red Deer, and Medicine Hat, as well as a mobile site for Calgary to offer supervised services in addition to the already-established program inside the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre downtown.

Montreal opened Canada’s first mobile supervised consumption site in June last year, and two more in Kamloops and Kelowna were approved by Health Canada shortly after.

A network of four supervised consumption sites are expected to open in Edmonton by the end of March, and Lethbridge opened the first site to offer consumption via inhalation (smoking) in late February.

“Community coalitions in (Grand Prairie, Red Deer, and Medicine Hat) are now working on applications seeking federal approval to offer these life-saving services, this will include robust community consultation,” said Elaine Hyshka, commission co-chair and assistant professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health.

“These cities need supervised consumption services urgently – Grand Prairie and Red Deer in particular have two of the highest rates of fentanyl-related deaths among Alberta’s big cities.”

Indigenous communities in Alberta are also being significantly impacted by the crisis – the Kainai First Nation (Blood Tribe) declared a local state of emergency last week after their health department reported 150 emergency calls related to overdoses in the span of a week.

The commission announced on Friday Alberta's first overdose prevention site (OPS) is now set up on the Blood Tribe reserve.

Unlike supervised consumption services, OPS' don’t require Health Canada’s approval to open, and are used to respond to a crisis until permanent supervised consumption services can be set up, Hyshka explained.

“It’s similar to supervised consumption, in that it allows people to bring drugs to use them under the supervision of people who are able to provide emergency medical care in the event of an overdose,” she told reporters.

“They typically tend to be focused primarily on overdose prevention, and not necessarily including a whole suite of wrap-around health and social supports.”

An Alberta Health Services-owner trailer with four consumption booths – first used as a temporary supervised consumption site in Calgary – is now set up in Stand Off, and will be operated by the ARCHES harm reduction agency from 2 p.m. until 10 p.m. daily.

Kevin Cowan, head of the Blood Tribe's health department, said the government moved with "military precision" to get the OPS set up.

“We met with the government last Friday, and made the request, and Alberta Health Services really stepped up – they were able to bring the mobile overdose prevention site from Calgary, it arrived yesterday, and it’s fully functional today,” Cowan told Metro on March 9.

He said the OPS is a temporary solution until the community can determine its next steps.

“We have it certainly for a month, perhaps longer, but what we will then do – and I think we’re supported by the government in doing this – is then apply for a permanent (supervised consumption) site," Cowan said.

“This is temporary until we can sort out what our true needs are, and whether (permanent supervised consumption services) will be accepted by the community. But I really am hopeful, because frankly, this is just about saving lives."

Hyshka said it’s too early to say where other overdose prevention sites might be used, but the province is open to communities proposing them.

Nearly 700 Albertans died from an apparent accidental opioid overdose last year, according to data from Alberta Health released last week.

On average, nearly two deaths every day (1.9) in this province are linked to opioid-related poisonings.

In the first three months Calgary offered supervised consumption services, there were 4,600 client visits and staff reported 90 overdose reversals.

The Lethbridge site reported more than 250 visits in its first week, and staff reversed four overdoses.

Cowan said the Blood Tribe is in close contact with other Indigenous communities in the area, who are also seeing a spate of overdose-related deaths.

"Each first nation community is working on a response in their own way – each is slightly different and they’re trying to respond to the specific needs in their community,” he explained. “We’re not alone in this."

More on