UCP Leader Jason Kenney draws fire for saying safe consumption sites help addicts 'inject poison'

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney is under fire for saying he doesn't believe drug safe consumption and injection sites work and wouldn't expand the programs across Alberta if elected premier.

UCP leader said he would not expand programs if elected premier

Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party, says 'helping addicts inject poison into their bodies is not a long-term solution to the problem.' (Zoe Todd/CBC)

UCP Leader Jason Kenney is drawing fire for saying he doesn't believe drug safe consumption and injection sites work and wouldn't expand the programs across Alberta if elected premier.

Kenney initially made the statements in an article published in the Lethbridge Herald on Thursday. After being blasted by criticism, the head of the United Conservative Party posted a statement on Facebook doubling down on his position.

"We absolutely need to show compassion for those suffering with addiction, and we need to help them get off drugs. But helping addicts inject poison into their bodies is not a long-term solution to the problem," Kenney wrote.

Kenney called for the federal government to crack down on the flow of foreign-produced synthetic drugs into Canada, and criticized the governing Alberta NDP for spending money on the safe consumption sites.

"In the news today, we learn that the Alberta NDP is funding a project to provide addicts with taxpayer-funded drugs to inject themselves with," Kenney wrote, referring to plans to open new opioid treatment centres in Edmonton and Calgary.

"That's right, our current government will be providing drug addicts with prescription grade drugs."

After the Lethbridge Herald story was published, Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips sharply rebuked Kenney on Twitter.

Kenney thinks "he knows better than the Lethbridge chief of police, the Lethbridge fire chief, our mayor, EMS, and everyone who has ever served people with opioid addictions," wrote Phillips, who is environment minister under Alberta's NDP government.

"The lives of my constituents in [Lethbridge] are more important than your ideology."

Alberta's NDP caucus also sent out a release, saying Kenney's view is in opposition of his own party's MLAs. 

Mike Ellis, Brian Jean and Rick Fraser (now with the Alberta Party) have all said in the past that they don't oppose the sites, stated the release.

Edmonton radio show host Ryan Jesperson tweeted that his brother works at a safe consumption site in Vancouver, and offered an open invitation to the MLA to debate the issue on his show. 

A Calgary doctor who works for a local non-profit that supports people struggling with poverty said Kenney's comments were harmful.

"I think that the parallel is, you know, what happened in Florida and reacting by saying that the solution to that is to give teachers guns. That's exactly the rhetoric that Jason Kenney is applying. And it's simply to polarize and politicize an issue that, like what happened in Florida, is at the heart of our humanity," said Dr. Bonnie Larson at a press conference Friday in Calgary announcing new opioid treatment centres.

"It's exploiting people's pain, and I hope and pray that predictions that he will lead in any way, shape or form, any of us in our democratic country are going to be wrong."​​

Lethbridge police and EMS have been struggling to keep up with dozens of overdose calls in recent days. 

The southern Alberta city's first safe consumption site opened on Wednesday, and there are similar sites in Calgary and Edmonton.

There were 562 fentanyl overdose deaths in Alberta in 2017, according to the provincial government.

In the first two months that Calgary's temporary consumption site was open, before a permanent facility opened its doors in January, there were 2,500 visits by more than 300 individual clients.

An estimated 55 overdoses were prevented. 

With a file from Reid Southwick