Calgary supervised drug consumption site gets $1.2M from province as overdose death toll climbs

The provincial government will spend $1.2 million to upgrade Calgary's Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, which applied for permission from Health Canada in May to open a supervised drug injection site in the city's downtown core.

241 Albertans died from fentanyl-related causes in first half of 2017

Alberta's associate minister of health, Brandy Payne, announced a $1.2-million commitment to renovations for a proposed safe injection site in downtown Calgary. (Mike Spenrath/CBC)

The provincial government announced a $1.2-million grant to upgrade Calgary's Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, which applied for permission from Health Canada in May to open a supervised drug injection site in the city's downtown core. 

The announcement, made Wednesday, comes hot on the heels of the latest opioid crisis statistics, which show a record 241 people in Alberta died from fentanyl-related causes in the first half of 2017, compared to 155 people during the same period last year. 

"Harm-reduction programs like supervised consumption services are an important strategy to help people using street drugs do so in a safer environment where overdoses can be prevented," said associate minister of health Brandy Payne in a release.

When asked what would happen to the $1.2-million grant if Health Canada were to reject the site application, Payne said she was confident that situation would not occur.

"I just really can't see that Health Canada wouldn't approve this, to be honest," she told reporters. 

Payne said she hopes the project will be green lit and running before the end of the year.

Opioid deaths by the numbers

Between April 1 and June 30, 119 people died from apparent fentanyl-related overdoses in Alberta. In the previous three months, the drug was blamed in the death of 122 people.

This comes after a record 343 people died in 2016 from fentanyl-related causes.

Another 33 people died from an apparent drug overdose related to an opioid other than fentanyl in the first three months of 2017.

'Not rocket science,' says MLA

Liberal MLA David Swann, a former medical officer of health, said the funding announcement is "good news," but things are still moving too slowly at both the provincial and federal level.

"What's the hold up here? This is supposed to be a national emergency. These approvals should be within weeks of application," he said. "This is not rocket science to approve a site and get the things rolling for people who need access to this care."

'When they're ready to get help, they need to have access to these services, and they're waiting weeks to months in some cases, still, in this province,' says MLA David Swann. (Mike Spenrath/CBC)

"We're approaching two deaths a day, and the minister is saying she's working hard with the federal government to get approval for these safe consumption sites? Come on. It's been months," he said. 

Swann said people are waiting weeks if not months, in some cases, to get into supervised care in the province. 

Health Canada is reviewing applications for proposed supervised consumption services in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge, Alta.