A big step in continuing to save lives and address the opioid crisis has been made in Alberta and Red Deer officials are hopeful approvals are on the way locally as well.
Today, an announcement was made that the federal government has officially approved the first five locations in Alberta to offer supervised consumption services, which include Edmonton and Lethbridge.
“By working with families and individuals directly affected by problematic substance use and addiction related issues we’re working to build solutions that will bring about change,” said Brandy Payne, associate minister of health.
Health Canada approved applications by the Edmonton-based community coalition AMISE (Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton) to offer supervised consumption services at three community facilities.
In addition, Alberta Health Services has received approval to offer supervised consumption services to in-patients at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, making it the first acute care hospital in North America to provide these services.
In addition, the Lethbridge-based community organization ARCHES has also been granted approval to provide supervised consumption services at a location in the city’s downtown.
“People who would otherwise use drugs in public, down back alleys, behind dumpsters, along fences will be able to come to these agencies instead and receive the care and support they need,” said Payne.
Coalitions in Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray and Edson are also reviewing their needs to offer supervised consumption services, and a community coalition in Calgary is assessing the need for additional services.
Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Red Deer’s Turning Point, said she was excited to hear the news by the province.
“I think it’s telling that both our federal and provincial governments are really serious about responding to this public health crisis and it gives me a lot of hope,” she said.
Turning Point Society was designated as project lead, and a Red Deer Coalition on the opioid crisis was formed.
She said they are currently working on their application at Turning Point and will be submitting for federal exemption.
“That will involve further community consultations and conversations for sure. I’m optimistic that we will receive the exemption. We could be operating a supervised consumption service within several months,” she said.
She said those applications could take a few months if not shorter to approve, depending on how many questions Turning Point receives.
“The sooner the better from our perspective. It’s pretty rough out there right now for folks who use drugs.”
Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services has also applied to offer supervised consumption services at a location in Calgary, which is expected to receive federal approval by the end of October.
Payne said while Edmonton and Calgary have the highest number of deaths, death rates are high in Red Deer, Grand Prairie, Lethbridge and Fort McMurray.
So far this year, 315 Albertans have died of apparent fentanyl-related overdoses.
The government’s actions include a substantial expansion in access to treatment, so more than 3,000 new patients in communities across the province can receive treatment annually.
”Opening supervised consumption services in our province complements urgent efforts to expand the treatment system, increase the number of treatment spaces and introduce new evidence-based treatment options,” said Dr. Elaine Hyshka, co-chair, Minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission.