Alberta commission recommends more overdose prevention sites across province

A commission set up by the Alberta government to deal with the opioid crisis recommended Friday that the province set up more overdose prevention sites.

The first such site is already up and running on the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta

Overdose prevention sites can be approved with less federal requirements than safe injection sites. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

A commission set up by the Alberta government to deal with the opioid crisis recommended Friday that the province set up more overdose prevention sites. 

The sites are temporary solutions that can be federally approved with fewer requirements than safe injection sites. 

Dr. Elaine Hyshka, co-chair of the opioid emergency response commission, said overdose prevention sites are a flexible option for communities facing an opioid crisis, or for special events such as music festivals.

"It allows people to bring pre-obtained drugs to use them under the supervision of people that are able to provide medical emergency care in the event of an overdose."

Overdose prevention sites don't offer the same level of social supports and health services as safe injection sites, said Hyshka. 

The first such site is already up and running on the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta, which is currently dealing with a spike in opioid related deaths. The commission did not recommend how many other sites should be established, or where they should be located.
This Alberta Health Services' ATCO trailer has been set up in Stand Off, Alta., to provide lifesaving medical supervision to help prevent opioid overdoses. (Alberta Health Services)

Drug testing services

In total, the commission made 14 new recommendations, all of which have been approved by the provincial government. 

They include offering services so users can test the drugs they are about to consume to see if they contain fentanyl.

In Alberta, 687 people died from apparent opioid overdoses in 2017, according to the latest data from Alberta Health. Of those deaths, 562 were from apparent fentanyl overdoses, compared to 358 in 2016.

Hyshka said drug testing isn't foolproof but does allow users to make more informed decisions. 

"They're really seen as a tool for harm reduction, so they are about having a conversation with people about what is in their drugs, what the limits of the technology are."

A study conducted at Insite, a Vancouver safe injection site, has shown that people who are aware that fentanyl is present in their drug are more likely to reduce their dose.  

The commission also recommends setting aside $5 million to help Indigenous communities develop initiatives to deal with the opioid crisis.

Those could include increased resources for treatment options, access to naloxone kits, and culturally appropriate education and prevention work.