Funding for new safe injection sites frozen by Alberta government until further notice
Government will conduct review to determine whether to further fund mobile sites
There won't be any additional funding for new safe injection sites, at least not until the government reviews the situation surrounding safe injection sites, a spokesperson for Alberta's minister of health confirmed Saturday.
"Just as we committed in our campaign platform, the new United Conservative government is following through on a commitment to freeze funding for any new supervised consumption sites pending a review of the sites to ensure a couple of considerations," said Steve Buick, a spokesperson for Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
"(One), that they're operating in accord with the best evidence to ensure they're saving lives is out there including wraparound services to offer appropriate treatment — and most importantly, that they're acceptable to the communities based on a detailed socio-economic review of the areas where they're located."
Buick added the funding freeze doesn't apply to existing safe injection sites such as the one operated by Safeworks at Sheldon Chumir Health Centre.
"That decision does not affect them, but there will be no further funding for development of new sites until the review is completed," Buick said.
Rather, the funding and review throws into uncertain status the new mobile safe injection site that was planned for Forest Lawn, as well as another one in Medicine Hat.
The Forest Lawn mobile site, which is awaiting approval from Health Canada, has generated controversy among Forest Lawn residents.
Several Forest Lawn Community Association members have spoken out about having a safe injection site operate in the neighbourhood.
"As long as there is such a great risk to the community to have this mobile safe consumption site, we will not stand for it," Forest Lawn Community Association president William Carnegie wrote in a Facebook post back in February. "The increase in violent crime, break and enters, and social disorder is not acceptable to our community."
Buick said that the funding freeze is in place until a review is conducted that assesses both the impact on users as well as the impact such sites have on the neighbourhoods in which they're placed.
"We know this is a priority for communities and for people who are concerned about people struggling with addiction. We know this is an urgent issue. It's an important commitment in the platform and we will certainly will review quickly, but we do not have today the details of it."
Former provincial Liberal leader David Swann, who attended an addiction conference Saturday, said that it was reasonable to conduct a review — and that he was encouraged from a speech delivered by Associate Minister for Mental Health and Addictions Jason Yuan at the conference, that eventually the mobile safe injection site would happen.
"The evidence is so strong that we need to have mobile and other sites that are saving lives," Swann said, in an interview with CBC's Helen Pike.
"We have seen no deaths in safe injection sites.
"We have seen a number of lives that have been saved and recovery that has resulted from developing relationships with people with addictions," he added.
With files from Helen Pike