Plans move forward for alternative Calgary safe drinking site as opioid deaths continue to decline

‘Now is the time to redouble our efforts to make it as easy as possible for Albertans to seek recovery from addiction’


The number of opioid-related deaths in Alberta continued to fall last July as work progresses to establish a supervised safe consumption site, provincial officials said Thursday.

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Alberta Health said 92 Albertans died from opioid overdoses in July, down 47 percent from the peak number of deaths, 174, recorded in November last year.


That number has continued to drop nearly every month since February, when 168 people in the province died of opioid overdoses, the vast majority of which involved fentanyl.

In Calgary, the death toll fell from a high of 62 last February to 29 in July.

Opioid-related EMS calls also fell 39 percent last July from the same month in 2021.

While deaths remain a concern, that downward trend is cause for optimism and a sign that the province’s strategy to tackle the epidemic is working and needs to be stepped up, said Mike Ellis, associate minister for mental health and addictions.

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“Now is the time to redouble our efforts to make it as easy as possible for Albertans to seek recovery from addiction,” he said in a statement.

“We will continue to work tirelessly to address the addiction crisis, further reduce deaths, and make treatment and recovery as accessible as possible.”

A doctor who works with vulnerable populations in Calgary noted that the death toll is almost down to pre-pandemic levels and reflects the reality of receding COVID-19.

During the pandemic with its more restricted borders, smuggling was more difficult, leading traffickers to sell dangerously adulterated drugs, said Dr. Monty Ghosh.

“The supply of toxic drugs now is probably not as bad as it was before,” he said.

Drug users are now less dangerously isolated and improved access to agonist or drug replacement treatment has also helped, as have other government programs, Ghosh said.

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Dr. Monty Ghosh outside the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Center.
Dr. Monty Ghosh outside the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Center. Darren Makowichuk/Post Media

But on the same day, Ellis also expressed dismay that another Calgary homeless shelter, this time the Alpha House Society, seemed to be holding up the establishment of an alternative supervised consumption site there.

“I learned today that Alpha House decided to suspend their plans to open an overdose prevention site at their Calgary shelter… this decision was made without input from the Government of Alberta,” Ellis tweeted Thursday.

That tweet was deleted later that day after a miscommunication was determined, a spokesman for Ellis’s office said.

The proposal is still moving forward, Ellis’ office said.

Earlier this month, a proposal to move the Safeworks site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Center to the Calgary Drop-In Center in the East Village was canceled due to lack of support from residents who said they would accept some programs but they wanted an overdose. prevention spread throughout the city.

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A spokeswoman for the Alpha House Society did not return calls for comment Thursday, but on September 9, a representative from the society said they would consult with the community on the proposal.

“We look forward to the ongoing discussions on this topic as we consider the real and pressing need for these services in the midst of the drug crisis in our province and how, as a city, we can create safe and inclusive communities for all,” said Shaundra. Bruvall in an email.

That effort follows an announcement last year that it would close the facility at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Center on the city’s Beltline. It remains open for now.

In making that decision, the province was responding to reports of social unrest related to the Safeworks site in Sheldon Chumir.

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Last year, the province said Safeworks would be replaced by two smaller sites in more appropriate locations.

Meanwhile, the provincial government said the decrease in the number of opioid deaths in the province was the result of its multi-pronged approach to combating the opioid crisis.

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Its establishment of 8,000 treatment and detoxification beds, a digital overdose response system and the introduction of the treatment drug Sublocade have helped turn the tide, they said.

“Alberta’s model is community-based and focused on increasing access to a coordinated network of services, including prevention, early intervention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery support,” the Ellis ministry said in a statement. release.

But critics of the government’s approach have said they should be more open to providing a safer supply of drugs, as is the case in BC, and have been slow to embed harm reduction in supervised consumption sites.

Ghosh said a recent study in Ontario showing the merits of safe supply in reducing hospital and emergency room admissions shows the policy could hold promise.

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“There could be benefits from a secure supply, but it’s not yet risk-free: there’s the potential for it to be sold, redistributed and used inappropriately,” he said.

And Ghosh, who has worked on the opioid crisis at the Drop-In Center, said it’s important that there are safe consumption sites both there and at Alpha House and that the neighboring community buys them.

“We would see less overdoses on the street, that’s already happening… (area residents) have to understand that things will get better overall,” he said.

— With archives of Dylan Short

[email protected]

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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