In what was the first of nine public meetings on a supervised drug consumption site, Red Deerians gathered to voice their questions and concerns Tuesday night. Participants rotated around three stations in the room, asking questions on various topics including medical information, wrap around servicing and the layout of safe consumption servicing.
Some statistics for Red Deer were also given at tonight’s meeting, which was hosted by the Turning Point Society of Central Alberta in conjunction with the Red Deer Coalition on the Opioid Crisis. More than 250 people who use drugs have been surveyed in Red Deer and of that research, the following statistics have emerged – 75% of those surveyed have smoked meth in public places, 81% have injected drugs in public, 48% of those surveyed had witnessed needle sharing among peers, 85% were willing to use supervised drug consumption servicing and 27% of those surveyed had overdosed by accident in the last six months.
Participants at tonight’s meeting had questions around a potential supervised consumption site in the City including do people bring their own drugs to the site or are they supplied? Who is using the supervised sites? What’s the demographic? What are the other supports people can access while at the site? What type of locations are being looked at?
Speakers from Turning Point began talking on the topic of the opioid crisis, painting a picture of not only what’s going on across the country, but what’s happening in Red Deer, and how supervised consumption services can fit into that.
The opioid crisis has been growing over the last few years, officials said.
“The strongest detail we can relate to that is the growing number of overdose deaths, and that has resulted in a national public health crisis,” said Rebecca Hare, project consultant for the Turning Point Society and supervised consumption services.
Many people, she said, become addicted to opioids from over prescription from doctors.
“So somebody gets into a car accident or they end up with some kind of chronic pain, they get prescribed opioids, and they’re physically addicted. It’s not necessarily that the person even wants to become addicted. There’s a physical reaction to them that causes you to be addicted.”
Opioids are also becoming very dangerous because of the nature of the drugs that are contained in them, she added.
Fentanyl is being added a lot and is inexpensive and unpredictable, so people who are trying to relieve their pain medication and have turned to the black market, are dying of overdoses, officials said.
“In Alberta last year, there were 363 deaths due to fentanyl.”
The trend has since grown. In 2011 there were six people who died due to fentanyl to the 363 in just a matter of five years.
Hare presented stats for the first quarter of this year, and said if the trend continues, there will be more than 470 deaths this year.
“It’s going to get worse before it gets better and that is why Alberta Health has such a big push towards addressing this in any way that we can right now.”
Why this is so important to Red Deer, she said, is that in 2016 Red Deer had the highest rate of fentanyl and other opioid related deaths in the province.
“For our population size Red Deer’s rate is the highest so this is a very serious problem in our City.”
According to Alberta Health supervised consumption services is a health service provided in a safe and hygienic place. It’s a place where individuals are able to use drugs under the supervision of well trained clinical staff, reducing overdose deaths, improving access to medical and social supports and not found to increase drug or criminal act.
“One of the key things especially looking at the amount of overdose deaths that we’ve been having in Alberta and in Red Deer is to save lives,” said Hare.
She said people coming into the site would bring in their pre-obtained drugs and use them under supervision of a nurse, so they have an opportunity to get education about how to safely inject. People would also have immediate on site help and disease transmission, so there’s clean and sterile supplies there.
Hare said they would also look at inhalation. She said if people only have access to safe injection supplies and a place to inject safely, they may take a drug they would normally inhale and start to inject it, which is a safer process.
She added another benefit of the site is that it can reduce crime and public disorder by reducing public injecting and discarded syringes.
Among the other speakers at the meeting was Keira Vander Vliet, a survivor of hard drugs, who told his story. He is now 18 months sober. At the time he was using drugs, he said he would have used a supervised consumption site, and believes they can help save lives.
“I think they create opportunities for people to interact with services and resources that they normally wouldn’t interact with,” he said.
He said simply being there and providing compassion for drug users can give them an opportunity to see that they might be interested in some path to recovery.
“A lot of these people don’t have any safe place in their lives so it would be a safe place for them and they might find that they’d want to find a support worker or something like that to open up to and maybe start exploring those avenues of potentials for recovery.”
His father, Buzz was also present at the meeting, voicing his support for the site.
“It’s wrap around services, so if there’s mental health services connected to that, that’s absolutely critical. I think that they should be available,” he said.
Another Red Deer resident, Glenn Moore voiced his thoughts on the issue.
“I’m getting the feeling that it’s a positive thing, but as I explained to one of the tables I think it’s a Band-aid approach to solving problems that are deep rooted mental health issues that the government and society needs to address in a more aggressive way to prevent the need for this,” he said.
Having the site, he said, is probably a step forward, although he’s not in favour of them obtaining their drugs illegally on the street benefiting the drug dealers and then taking them to the site to consume when they may or may not be safe drugs to take.
“I’m on the fence as to whether if it’s really needed, maybe we should be providing the high quality drugs as opposed to the crap that they’re getting on the street,” said Moore.
Another member of the community who wishes to only disclose his first name, Dennis, said since the City started giving out naloxone, he’s administered it 36 times to people, himself personally.
He said he believes the site would be a huge benefit to the City in many different ways.
“I guess the reality of the opioid crisis from someone that’s actively involved in it is that it’s a very scary thing and when you look at the big picture, I think that if we’re in crisis right now it’s really getting going and the sooner we can start doing things like this to help the community as a whole I think the better off we are.”
He said pretending the issue doesn’t exist is going to leave a lot of trouble down the road.
“I think initially if it was to open I think most of the people that use drugs are going to be terrified of it and they’re probably not going to want to go but they will get there.”