Eleven overdose deaths in Red Deer this year were preventable, officials say

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
March 7, 2018 - 4:19pm

Three people died in Red Deer last month from opioid-related overdoses, bringing this year’s total to 11.

According to Stacey Carmichael, Executive Director at Turning Point, there’s a decent chance they all could have been prevented if Red Deer had supervised consumption services.

Carmichael notes those 11 deaths are only the ones they are familiar with, adding there are likely more which only Alberta Health would know about.

In the meantime, she says Turning Point has everything ready to go for their federal exemption application, except for a location. A federal exemption is granted to supervised consumption sites so that someone who is on site may legally consume drugs which are typically illegal.

“We have met with some of our local councillors and we're going to continue to have those conversations to try and expedite this process as best we can,” she says.

It is Turning Point’s belief that they never formally applied to The City of Red Deer for SCS at their current location, so it is possible that debate could land back on city council’s desks.

In December, council went through the process of debating supervised consumption services from a land use perspective. It was ultimately decided that SCS would only be permitted in the parking lot at Red Deer Regional Hospital, something Carmichael says unequivocally won’t happen.

“That’s for a variety of reasons, the main one being the hospital doesn’t want the damn thing,” she says. “That’s fair enough and they’ve been pretty transparent about that. It’s really disheartening though because people aren’t hearing the reality of things, and meanwhile people are dying.”

City council is still waiting to make changes to licensing regulations so that a mobile site can start rolling. Carmichael says that option may have to work in the meantime, but isn’t optimal because it won’t serve as many people as would a standalone site.

“At the end of the day it’s really important to us that we can operate a service that not only allows people to inject drugs safely, but also to smoke drugs safely, as well as make connections and be welcome and not feel shame and have to hide and stand in line outside a trailer in the middle of wherever,” she bemoans. “We're not going to stop until we get it.”

Carmichael points out that the smoking of drugs is not permitted at a mobile site, and while mobile operations in Kelowna and Kamloops have saved some lives, they aren’t providing enough respect and dignity to users.

“It’s quick, it’s ‘Make sure you’re not overdosing, and get off,’ whereas the site we're proposing -- or that we're going to have -- is ‘Get in, do your drugs, make sure you're safe and chill out for a while and breathe.’”

Users may also then proceed to access on-site wraparound services.

Carmichael says at the end of the day, community input is vital, adding that it’s beyond frustrating however when all the pieces are in place to move forward, but they can’t because some people are too closed-minded.

Turning Point has launched a new Facebook page where they are inviting an open and respectful dialogue on supervised consumption services. They also plan to launch a dedicated SCS website in the near future.

"It's coming. I'm happy to say that supervised consumption services is coming,” Carmichael concludes. “But how are we going to do it in this community? Are we going to settle for less than the best? I hope not.”

Lethbridge's supervised consumption site recently opened and saw 80 people in its first week.

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