Calgary

Location of supervised opioid consumption site divides Red Deer

Red Deer is edging closer to making a supervised consumption site a reality in the central Alberta city, but the community is still divided about where it should be.

City paving the way for mobile site over a downtown-based facility

A health worker demonstrates the proper usage of a needle. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Red Deer is edging closer to making a supervised consumption site a reality in the central Alberta city, but the community is still divided about where it should go.

In the first half of 2017, there were 24 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Alberta Health Services' central zone. There were 56 deaths in the zone in 2016.

The numbers aren't as high as other cities, but by population, Red Deer is a leader in opioid deaths.

"We're going to have to figure out how to work together as a community to keep people alive in this crisis," said Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point, a harm-reduction group that works with opioid addicts from a storefront location in the downtown.

"I believe we've had three fatalities already in January, along with 50 overdose reversals," she added.

A downtown location makes the most sense, according to Carmichael, because that's where the drug trade and drug use is already happening.

Carmichael wants her organization to take the lead on a supervised consumption service, allowing users to smoke opioids, snort them, ingest them and inject them, covering all types of use, while connecting users to other services including addictions and mental health outreach.

Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point, says a downtown location makes the most sense for a supervised consumption site. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The City of Red Deer preferred the idea of a site at the city's hospital grounds following a public hearing. But it would be far away from users and not what users want, according to Carmichael.

Then last week the city changed its bylaws to pave the way for a mobile consumption site.

"We gave people a few options in a survey we did and 70 per cent said they might use a mobile site, less wanted to use a health facility but 98 per cent said they would use a site at Turning Point's existing location," said Carmichael.

Red Deer's mayor says it's not out of the question for Turning Point to end up running the mobile site, despite the groups concerns around the mobile option, including access and size.

Beverly Krausher, owner of Great Strides shoe store, says the proposed location for a safe consumption site is too close to retail outlets and restaurants. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"Obviously Turning Point could still be the operator given their relationships with the community, for a mobile service as well any prospective use on the hospital grounds," said Veer.

"Other Canadian cities like Kamloops and Kelowna are successfully using a mobile unit," Veer noted.

Downtown businesses are open to a mobile site, but — like a downtown site — just not near them.

"The business community is pretty united in their front," said Beverly Krausher, owner of Great Strides shoe store, a short walk across the street from Turning Point.

"The location that's being proposed is just too close to retail and restaurant areas. We just really don't have a buffer zone and we're talking about a health issue here and I really don't know that this is the right place to put that," she said.

A needle disposal in Red Deer. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Carmichael says a recent online survey by the Downtown Business Association showed 70 per cent of businesses were opposed to a downtown location.

"People are overdosing, people are dying, it would be almost tragic to have a location be what's holding this up," said Carmichael.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey

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