Permanent safe consumption site opens at Sheldon Chumir

(Photo by Quin Hauck/SAIT)

A Calgary urgent care centre has launched a safe injection site in an effort to combat the current opioid crisis.

A permanent supervised consumptions service that allows drug users a safe environment opened at Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre on Monday, Jan. 15.

“I think it’s going to show individuals who are using substances that we care about your future,” said Brandy Payne, Alberta Associate Minister of Health.

A supervised consumption site is a safe place for drug users to consume drugs and offers other services to help curb addiction.

Safe consumption sites also reduce the transmission of blood borne illnesses because users are not sharing needles. The site ensures users are disposing of their needles safely reducing the risk to the public.

According to data released by the Alberta government, on average 1.8 people a day have died due to opioid related overdoses, including fentanyl.

“As far as I’m concerned as long as Albertans are dying of preventable overdoses we are going to have more work to do, and we’re going to keep working to address the opioid crisis,” said Payne.

In Alberta, there were 482 opioid related deaths in the first nine months of 2017.

“Whether it’s someone who started with a prescription drug or someone who is using street drugs from the get go, there’s so many different factors which is why, for us, it’s so critically important to keep that focus on harm reduction and treatment,” said Payne.


Alberta Health Services had a temporary safe consumption site set up in the parking lot at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre.

“We had great success with the temporary site,” said Payne.

This site saw 2,551 visits by more than 300 clients from October to the end of December 2017.
The temporary site treated 55 overdoses, referred 45 people to social work for support and connections to other services and referred 11 people to opioid depend-ency programs.

“The real success of the temporary site came from the collaboration with community groups such as Safeworks, with the downtown community as well as collaboration with the City of Calgary and Calgary Police Services,” said Payne.

The site also distributed more than 100 naloxone kits a month, a kit used to help those who experience an opioid overdose survive until emergency services can arrive.

“People are already shooting up heroin and this is an opportunity to keep them alive in the meantime while they get the support and help they need to recover,” said Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point.

Turning Point is a charity for prevention and support of people with blood borne illnesses or sexually trans-mitted illnesses. The organization is currently trying to get a safe consumption site in Red Deer.

“No matter who you are or what your ideology is, supervised consumption sites work,” said Carmichael.

Supervised consumption sites have many benefits including reducing the cost of treatment for overdoses and they can divert people from emergency rooms in cases of an overdose.

“It would lighten the demand on EMS, because currently, if you overdose in a back alley you’re going to have to call an ambulance. Most overdoses can be reversed quickly and people’s lives can be saved,” said Carmichael.

Safe consumption sites are only one factor in the government’s plan to deal with the opioid crisis.
Currently, there is an opioid emergency response com-mission made up of doctors, harm reduction experts, Indigenous community advisors and law enforcement.

Other approaches in reduction include public awareness grants, harm reduction strategies that include needle exchanges and prescribing guidelines for doctors.

“These are all people that are fathers, and mothers and sons, and daughters and we want to be able to keep them alive while we deal with all these other concerns that they are having right now,” said Carmichael.

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