Officials with Northreach Society say the stigma surrounding drug use must be broken before any real changes can be made in cracking the opioid crisis.

According to the Q2 Opioid Response report released by Alberta Health Services, the city has seen 19 opioid-related deaths since the turn of 2019, but the per capita numbers have dropped to a rate of 51 people per 100,000 from July to September, down from 59 per 100,000 between January and June.

Executive Director Melissa Byers says a heatmap released as part of the report shows a number of reported overdoses outside of the downtown core. She says those heat imprints are viable proof that the negative stigma surrounding drug use, and in turn the supervised consumption site, maybe keeping people away from sites that can help them.

“Nobody is going to leave the comfort of their house to go down to a supervised consumption site that’s located in a shelter, use their drugs and then drive home back to their place. They’re going to use drugs in their bathrooms, bedrooms, wherever,” she says.

Byers says she is incredibly curious to know the details surrounding each reported overdose, as the report only delves into the number of fatalities, rather than the circumstances.

“I’d be really interested to know if they used alone, how they were using, what they were using. I think we need to start sinking into the social factors of this crisis instead of just looking specifically at the numbers.”

She adds that in the end, unless the community at large comes together to try and destigmatize drug use, the problems facing Grande Prairie may not turn around any time soon.

“Otherwise we can’t change anything, we’re just going to keep spinning our wheels, keep talking about stigma, and how we have to reduce it, and everyone is somebody’s somebody, which is all true, but people are still dying in our city.”

Between March and August 2019, 4,084 visits to the supervised consumption site were recorded, with 89 overdose responses.