Outside the Sheldon Chumir safe injection site in Calgary, Alberta, on May 31, 2019.
Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail
Calgary residents Emily Doerksen and Tianna Cleveland organized a protest scheduled for Friday night to protect Safeworks, the citys only supervised drug consumption site, located at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in the citys Beltline neighbourhood a site the provincial government plans to shut down four years after it opened.
The province said the clinic will remain open until it is replaced with two other supervised consumption sites at locations that already serve individuals dealing with addiction, though no details have been released about where they will be placed.
With the closure of the Calgary site, Ms. Doerksen worries people who use its services may lose trust in the system, and said she feels the province doesnt recognize safe consumption sites as essential, life-saving social services.
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Its not about just offering people a place to do drugs, said Ms. Doerksen, who is working on a masters degree at McGill University focusing on human genetics and bioethics. Its offering them a community and a sense of safety.
On Wednesday, the province announced new regulations for supervised consumption sites, including standardized data collection, clinical practice standards, staff qualifications and training, physical site requirements and good neighbour agreements. Service providers must also tell clients about treatment options, pathways to detox and recovery services.
The United Conservative Party government targeted supervised consumption services, or SCS, in its 2019 election campaign with a promise to ensure they are linked to treatment and to review negative effects of such facilities.
The government struck a panel to review the sites. A report released last year concluded that supervised consumption sites increase crime and disorder in neighbourhoods that host them, though the report was widely criticized by public-health experts.
Due to COVID-19, low attendance at supervised drug consumption site in Calgary may increase risk of overdoses
Supervised consumption services face host of difficulties in Prairie provinces
Experts say supervised consumption sites are critical to reducing overdose-related deaths, and additional regulations will make it more difficult to open and run such sites, as well as limit who has access to them.
Data released this week show that in the first quarter of 2021, there were 346 fatal opioid deaths in Alberta an average of nearly four per day and more than double the number of deaths in the same months last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with significant increases in fatal opioid overdoses in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada.
In a news release, the provincial government said the new mandatory quality standards the first of their kind in the country will improve community safety, provide higher-quality services and increase integration with the health care system.
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Hakique Virani, an associate clinical professor of public health and addictions medicine specialist at the University of Alberta, said these new regulations paint an erroneous picture about the state of SCS in the province.
To add more layers at a time when were in an epidemic of fatal overdoses seems, at least, misguided, he said.
Justin Marshall, press secretary for the associate minister of mental health and addictions, Jason Luan, said collecting personal data such as health-card numbers will integrate clients to the health care system. but Dr. Virani disagrees.
He said requiring identification will reduce access for the most vulnerable clients, referencing University of Alberta research that found only 36 per cent of respondents would use SCS if identification was needed.
Elaine Hyshka, one of the researchers in the University of Alberta study, said clients using SCS are hesitant to release their identification in fear of arrest and medical discrimination that may follow if their records show they used drugs.
Dr. Virani said another area of concern is the requirement for SCS staff to undergo background checks, which could prevent them from working in the sector. Peer support workers have life experience that is invaluable, he said.
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NDP critic Lori Sigurdson said Alberta is in the middle of a crisis, noting that instead of expanding services, the province will further alienate people who need access to SCS.
The government needs to meet people where theyre at before they may be willing to undergo treatment, she noted.
Many people are dying a preventable death.
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