Red Deer had the highest rate of fentanyl related-deaths in Alberta in 2016 at 21 deaths per 100,000 people, with the next highest being Grande Prairie, City council heard on Monday night.
During this week’s meeting, council agreed to a number of advocacy positions related to substance abuse in Red Deer.
“This is a cross-departmental response to the council resolutions that we’ve been given to date with regard to a number of issues related to programs under the opioid crisis,” said City Manager Craig Curtis.
He said one issue they hear as administration over again is the issue of needle debris.
The issue, he said, is they are now spending up to $100,000 a year just on the collection of the needles not returned.
In August, the Red Deer Coalition on the Opioid Crisis held a series of public consultation sessions looking to educate and get feedback from the public on a potential supervised consumption site.
Mayor Tara Veer weighed in on some of the issues discussed at council.
“I think we have to be very realistic about the fact that the provincial government a few years ago made decisions around needle distribution in order to implement harm reduction for the vulnerable, but that has resulted in real health and safety impacts locally as well as financial impacts,” said Veer.
She said the report does identify upwards of a direct impact of $100,000 in terms of needle debris and clean up alone.
“Obviously the financial aspects are important and we have a responsibility with respect to that, but I think our primary responsibility in this case has to do with the safety implications for our citizens.”
She said when you think of the operational impact in terms of dispatching emergency services, public works after hours or the Downtown Business Association in terms of needle debris, there are substantial direct impacts and indirect impacts when those crews are dispatched for that purpose.
“I speak in strong support of needle exchange as a stop gap measure,” said Veer.
She believes what they have to do is reach a balance for the safety of the vulnerable and addicted, which she said is the purpose of distributing clean needles.
“What has concerned council and the community is the fact that of the over 500,000 needles distributed, I believe it’s 560,000 needles that were distributed last year, only approximately 350,000 of them are accounted for. That’s 150,000 needles that are unaccounted for.”
She said council has a duty as a City to balance the need for the vulnerable with the safety needs of the general public, but they find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
Council ultimately took numerous advocacy positions and actions towards the issue including the need for a treatment centre.