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Panel finds “serious problems” with current operation of supervised consumption sites

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There are “serious problems” with supervised consumption sites as they are being operated in Alberta, according to a panel charged with looking into the socio-economic impacts of current and proposed sites. The committee, which was lead by former Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht, suggests some of the biggest issues surrounding the sites include record-keeping and data collection, which they believe varied in accuracy and consistency among the sites in their reporting.

A note was also made around site operators’ definition of the term “overdose reversal”, which the committee believes was varied from site to site.

The Grande Prairie mobile safe consumption site, which opened on March 11th, 2019, had 4,972 total users between opening day and September 30th, 2019, with a total of 166 unique users, and an average of 24.4 visits per day. According to the report, Grande Prairie residents had significant concerns around needle debris, open drug use, social disorder, continued overdoses and deaths, and a lack of enforcement and police response.

“This report is a wake-up call for Alberta,” says Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan.

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“Every one of us deserves to feel safe in our communities, and every Albertan struggling with addiction should be able to access the supports they need.”

The report states that emergency responder calls for service in the area surrounding the mobile safe consumption site increased by 10.7 percent, with calls in the city overall increased by 6.6 percent. Northreach Society Executive Director Melissa Byers says they are in the midst of reviewing and digesting the information and look forward to developing their services.

“Harm reduction is obviously one of the pillars we work in, but we work in the continuum of care that includes treatment, enforcement and prevention services. I think in the report it highlighted one pillar, the harm reduction, but it didn’t highlight how we intersect with the other three, which is a key role in what we do.”

Byers remains adamant that the services are making a tangible difference in the lives of those who are battling addiction.

“As we continue to see the street drugs and culture surrounding drug use evolving, I think these services are going to continue to be necessary.”

According to numbers released as part of the report, each individual visit in Grande Prairie cost an average of $263, for a grand total of $1,307,119 for 204 days of operation. The panel did not make any final considerations or recommendations as to the future of the sites.

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