Safe injection site next step in fighting opioid crisis

For those who live and work in downtown Calgary, seeing a homeless person is not an unlikely occurrence.

Every so often, you’ll see someone who visibly has a drug addiction.

In an effort to curb the amount of overdoses and public disposal of drug paraphernalia, a new permanent supervised consumption site has opened inside the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre.

A temporary site was in their parking lot, as the newly opened site had been under construction after being approved by Health Canada in June of last year.

It’s understandable to think opening such a site will only increase crime in the area, but as Alberta Health Services (AHS) communications director James Finstad noted, there have been no security issues since the opening of the temporary site on Oct. 31, 2017.

In the first two months of being open, the temporary site has had 2,551 visits, and caught 55 overdoses.

If we know that users and addicts who reside in the inner city are going to use narcotics either way, why not provide a safe, supervised space to do so?

That way, drug consumption isn’t happening on our playgrounds, openly on the streets, or anywhere else where leaving dirty needles could potentially harm someone else.

“No more needles in parks,” said Taneille Guzzi, a nurse at the Sheldon M. Chumir.

In the first nine months of 2017, there were 482 opioid related deaths in Alberta alone, 68 of those in Calgary.

It’s no secret that fentanyl has made drug consumption that much more dangerous, but at least with the supervised site, immediate help is available during potential overdoses.

On-site drug testing is “not on the books” for existing and future sites according to Finstad due to possible liability issues.

The Chumir building makes perfect sense as the host to the supervised consumption site, as Safeworks Harm Reduction Program already provides a needle exchange program and the AHS Opioid Dependency Progam.

“It has accessible information for rehabilitation if someone wants to get clean,” said Guzzi.

“They have easy access and education for treatment. I think this is the hopes of the safe injection site.”

A social worker will be on hand at the site, as well as access to a public telephone so clients may book or reschedule their own appointments if they are getting treatment elsewhere.

The biggest challenge may inevitably be getting the public on board.

“It’s new and a change for Calgary,” said Guzzi.

These consumption sites aren’t handing out free drugs to bypassers, and it’s not as if having this facility will make the average person want to go down there and experiment with drugs.

It’s simply a way to make our city cleaner and safer.

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