'No silver bullet' but suburban supervised consumption sites would help, addiction specialist says

A site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre opened last fall in an effort to reduce overdoses from fentanyl and other drugs that are plaguing Alberta.

Fentanyl users often take the drug alone in their homes, notes Dr. Hakique Virani

Addictions specialist Dr. Hakique Virani commented on what we can learn from a report update report on the new supervised consumption site in downtown Calgary. (CBC/Canadian Press)

A doctor is calling for more supervised consumption sites in Calgary, especially in the suburbs.

One opened last fall in downtown at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in an effort to reduce overdoses from fentanyl and other drugs that are plaguing Alberta.

"There's not a silver bullet to solving this epidemic," addictions specialist Dr. Hakique Virani said Friday. "It's a combination of a number of very strongly evidenced-based public health interventions."

The most recent monthly report from Alberta Health Services on the Safeworks Supervised Consumption Services shows that more and more people are taking illicit drugs under the centre's medical supervision.

Since November, the site has had about 470 unique visitors, mostly to use meth/crystal or fentanyl.

Missing suburban people

Those patients are mostly men, have an average age of 36, and, of those who put down an address, are either staying in a homeless shelter or have no fixed address.

These demographics suggest Calgary needs more centres outside the downtown core to specifically address the ongoing fentanyl and opioid crisis afflicting Alberta, Virani told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"We miss certain populations with this type of service," he said. "One of the characteristics of this epidemic is that it's affecting a lot of people in the suburbs who use substances alone."

Safeworks, located at the Sheldon Chumir Centre, offers space for users to take their drugs with medical staff nearby in case of an overdose or if the user wants information about addiction treatment. (CBC)

Virani theorizes that the downtown location may not be convenient for some.

"Harm reduction outside of inner cities, there's no reason why we can't do that," he said. "If geography is one of the barriers to people accessing that type of site, then offering it in multiple places would be wise."

Overdoses down

Figures in the report show that with each passing month, more patients are coming to the Sheldon Chumir site. Daily visits have increased from 11 on average in November to 96 in February, for a total of almost 7,000 visits over four months.

Also, the numbers in the report show that a smaller percentage of those patients are overdosing.

In November, 2.63 per cent of visitors had overdosed. In February, only 1.27 per cent overdosed.

All were treated by either oxygen, the naloxone antidote or EMS.

Most clients to the centre go in more than once a day. So far, staff have made 35 referrals for clients to attend social work or opioid dependency programming, the report said.

Addictions specialist Dr. Hakique Virani says supervised consumption sites save lives, but we need to do more

5 years ago
Duration 4:41
Sheldon M. Chumir supervised consumption site has had almost 7,000 client visits since it opened in October and clients can also access treatment services while they are there

With files from Lisa Robinson and the Calgary Eyeopener.