Agency applies to build supervised drug consumption site in Lethbridge

With the support of local police, the mayor’s office and the provincial health minister, a Lethbridge harm reduction agency has applied to Health Canada to open a supervised consumptions services site in the southern Alberta city.

Program will be housed in downtown building and offer 'wraparound services' to help people who use drugs

The former Pulse nightclub in Lethbridge is being proposed as a supervised consumption services site in the southern Alberta city. (Google Maps)

As part of the ongoing battle against the opioid epidemic in Alberta, a Lethbridge harm reduction agency has applied to Health Canada to open a supervised consumption services site in the southern Alberta city.

"Supervised consumption services saves lives and they are a vital component of Alberta's broader opioid emergency response," said Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman in a release.

The application was made July 31 by ARCHES, a Lethbridge-based harm reduction agency, which wants to operate the site in a downtown building that formerly housed Pulse Nightclub.

"We do have high incidences of overdose that are occurring," executive director Stacey Bourque told CBC News. "Specifically in the south zone, our visits to the emergency department, the rates for that are more than 24 per cent [above] the provincial average."

The location was chosen, said Bourque, as it is near where public drug use, and overdoses, occurs, along with being close to transit and away from residential areas.

The building is also zoned to be a supervised consumption services site.

Strong support

Along with Hoffman, the idea has the support of the Lethbridge Executive Leaders Coalition on Opioid Use, a 16-member group which includes Lethbridge Police Services, Lethbridge Fire and EMS as well as the Ministry of Child and Family Services and Alberta Health Services.

Bourque said public information sessions were held in July, which received "overwhelming" support.

ARCHES serves about 600 clients a month and Bourque expects around half would access the site.

"After that, really it's unknown how many individuals will access the site moving forward," she said.

'Wraparound support services'

Along with offering medical supervision, the site will offer "wraparound support services," as well said Bourque.

"Within the facility there will be addictions counselling, harm reduction supports, there will be nursing clinics and support programs for things like wound-care and other primary care services," she said, adding there will also be a housing-first clinical team assisting people with complex needs and a take-home naloxone program.

"We're hoping that by having all these services in one place, we can address many issues people who use drugs face and can help support health and wellness," said Bourque.

No timeline set

There is no timeline for the federal review or when an response might be provided, however renovations are set to start in September in order to be able to move forward right away should it be granted.

In June, officials announced plans to build a supervised consumption services site at the Sheldon Chumir Centre in Calgary's Beltline neighbourhood.

In Edmonton, supervised sites have been proposed at three inner-city community centres — Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Street Community Services and the George Spady Centre.