Lethbridge supervised consumption site busier than Calgary's

Numbers released this week show Lethbridge's supervised consumption site has overtaken Calgary's facility in terms of usage.

Lethbridge site averaged 175 clients a day in April compared with 106 a day in Calgary in late March

Stacey Bourque of ARCHES, says Lethbridge's supervised consumption site saw an average of 175 clients a day in the month of April. (CBC)

Numbers released this week show Lethbridge's supervised consumption site has overtaken Calgary's facility in terms of usage.

Calgary is often considered the epicentre of Alberta's opioid crisis as the death toll in the city has been higher than in other regions.

But new numbers out of Lethbridge are striking.

"It definitely far exceeds what we expected," said Stacey Bourque, executive director of ARCHES, the agency that runs Lethbridge's supervised consumption site.

Bourque says they had an average of 175 visits each day in April; the highest single-day number seen since the facility opened is 231.

By comparison, according to Alberta Health Services numbers, Calgary averaged 106 visits a day in the last week of March — the most recent number available — with the highest single-day total being 143 since it opened.

"Calgary has a lot more infrastructure to serve people who use drugs than we do — so things like permanent supportive housing, medical detox beds, treatment centres," said Bourque.

An example of some of the materials provided free of charge to clients who enter the now permanent consumption site located at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in downtown Calgary. (Mike Symington/CBC)

By the end of April, 389 client had registered to use the Lethbridge site, with 75 per cent of those using it multiple times.

To date, there have been 70 overdoses at the Lethbridge facility; however, none of those have been fatal.

Because of the high numbers, there can be a wait of between 10 and 90 minutes for clients wanting the service, and Bourque worries some of those people may become desperate and leave to use drugs elsewhere.

Lethbridge police say it's too early to pinpoint what impact the site is having on crime.

But Insp. Tom Ascroft of the Lethbridge Police Service says public drug use seems to be moving to the supervised consumption site.

"At one point, it was everywhere in the community," he said. "We were having people using drugs in public libraries, in washrooms, in malls, in public parks."

So far in 2018, there have been 272 calls to 911 about overdoses in the Lethbridge area.

Bourque's group is asking the province for funding to expand the site and offer supervised consumption services around the clock.

With files from Reid Soutwick