Calgary

New Calgary collective brings together experts of all kinds to tackle street-level drug use

The people dealing with drug addiction on the front lines and on the streets — and its impacts on Calgary communities — met Wednesday morning to talk about how they can work together.

'Someone dies every other day,' says crimonologist

Experts from multiple fields met in Calgary to discuss the creation of an action plan to tackle street drug use and its impacts in the city. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

The people dealing with drug addiction on the front lines and on the streets — and its impacts on Calgary communities — met Wednesday morning to talk about how they can work together.

Nearly four dozen law enforcement officials, social workers, researchers, outreach workers, medical professionals, city officials and community leaders attended the informal meeting hosted by Mount Royal University criminologist Dr. Kelly Sundberg. 

They all agree that a coordinated plan is critical to deal with ongoing street level drug addiction and resulting social disorder and crime.

"We've had year after year, hundreds of people dying from this. Someone dies every other day." said Sundberg. "It's a crisis and we need quick action and there can't be bureaucratic red tape that's holding it back."

He said he wanted to bring these individuals, groups and organizations together because he knows they ultimately have the same goals.

Dr. Kelly Sundberg called the informal meeting after becoming frustrated by the staggering overdose death toll in Calgary. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

"There's some great work being done in this city. But there still is a disconnect between those doing great work."

Sundberg thinks it's time to bridge that gap.

"We need to have a central place that coordinates the great effort of everyone so we're not duplicating, that public funds are being spent properly."

Calgary police Supt. Darren Leggatt said one agency or group can't solve the problem alone.

"Working as a collaborative, working together in partnership is really important when we talk about dealing with public health and wellness matters like addiction," he said. 

It's not something the police can arrest its way out of. It does require the village to come together.- Supt. Darren Leggatt

Leggatt said one example police are seeing of increased problems with opioids is when they seize stolen vehicles, vehicles used in crime sprees, or vehicles out for joy rides — nearly 90 per cent of them test positive for traces of meth.

"These crimes are being committed for the purposes of feeding the habit," he said. "It's not something the police can arrest its way out of. It does require the village to come together."

The City of Calgary is undertaking a similar initiative. It's earmarked up to $25 million and is convening community partners to develop a five-year mental health and addiction strategy.

During discussions Wednesday, the collective talked about all the work that's already been done to collect information and come up with ideas to tackle the issues, and it was decided they'd do a literature review of sorts.

The idea is to share ideas and data, as well as  identify best practices and goals. 

Sundberg said he was compelled to call this group together after looking over a study he completed in October 2017 into social disorder and crime in Calgary's downtown, and realizing that since then there have been more than 310 overdose deaths. 

Supt. Darren Leggatt said it’s encouraging to see so many community groups unite with a common goal. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

"Despite great effort and great money going into this we still see an increase in death and we need to address that," he said. "And I couldn't just sit by as a researcher looking at the problems studying the problem and not do something about it."

The group ended the brainstorming session with the commitment to meet again and invite more stakeholders to that next meeting. 

The goal for the meeting is to come up with a coordinated action plan and funding model they can present to municipal, provincial and federal governments as a united front.

"To say, you know what, we're a group of professors, doctors, nurses, social workers, police, transit, bylaw — the list goes on. But, we're the leaders within our respective areas and someone dies every other day — we have to have action," said Sundberg.

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

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