Calgary

Drop-off in use of drug consumption sites amid COVID-19 concerns advocates

Some doctors and advocates are worried about the safety of Albertans who use drugs as the pandemic drags on.

'I'm worried about where folks are actually going and using, and potentially overdosing'

An injection kit is shown at a supervised injection facility in Vancouver. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Some doctors and advocates are worried about the safety of Albertans who use drugs as the pandemic drags on.

COVID-19-related health rules have impacted access to supervised consumption sites.

In March, Calgary's supervised consumption site, Safeworks, cut its capacity in half to accommodate physical distancing rules.

As a result, there were just over 4,400 visits in April compared with 6,600 in February.

Dr. Bonnie Larson, a family physician who works with vulnerable Calgarians in the downtown area, says users might be afraid to use the facility.

"I'm worried about where folks are actually going and using, and potentially overdosing, and maybe there will even be increased mortality," she said.

Larson says if the province hadn't put the brakes on a new mobile site for Calgary, the additional space could have helped in this situation.

Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point, says the site has seen a dramatic drop off in usage since the pandemic struck. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"If we had had more capacity, potentially people would be safer," she said.

The overdose rate at Safeworks increased in April — and Larson worries that indicates increasing contamination in the drug supply.

Visits to Red Deer's overdose prevention site have dropped, too, from an average of 174 per day in February to 94 per day in April.

Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point Society, which runs the facility out of a trailer, says she has been receiving reports of more overdoses in the community since the pandemic began.

"I see the individuals behind the numbers. I see the 22-year-old kid that I was chatting with last week, wasn't able to wait and now he's dead," she said.

"We should be gravely concerned for the well-being of people who use the service."

With files from Jennifer Lee

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