Health Canada has approved five applications from the coalition group, Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton (AMSISE), to offer supervised drug consumption services (or safe injection sites as they are also called,) in the province. Four are in Edmonton and another one is in Lethbridge.
The approvals come as the opioid crisis continues to claim lives across both the province and Canada. So far, more than 315 Albertans have died from Fentanyl-related overdoses this year.
“These services will provide a safer environment for patients at risk of overdose and enable our staff to assist them in accessing help and supports if they need,” says Alberta Health Services President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu. “This sends a strong message to our patients and all Albertans who struggle with substance use, a message that shows we care about them, that their lives matter.”
A survey of over 1,800 Edmonton residents conducted by AMSISE found that 81 percent of respondents approved of introducing the programs. The coalition also consulted the public through six open houses, knocking on 850 doors and meeting with community leagues, police, business associations and substance users.
The approvals for Edmonton include three community organizations, the Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Community Services, the George Spady Centre. The Royal Alexandra Hospital will also have a supervised drug consumption area, the first hospital in North America to offer a service of this kind.
In Lethbridge, the community organization ARCHES will be in charge of the services there.
“Supervised consumption services will save lives and reduce pressure on emergency services as well as reducing public drug consumption and needle debris,” says ARCHES President Stacey Bourque. “I recognize that this is not a panacea but it is a bridge of hope between something and nothing and between life and death. These services will be integrated into the existing services of ARCHES.”
The province says they expect the community sites in Edmonton to be ready either late this year or in early 2018 while Lethbridge will be early next year. The Royal Alexandra Hospital should have their program up and running by spring of 2018.
More sites are expected to come in the future. The Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in Calgary is expected to be approved by Health Canada sometime near the end of October. Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne says she expects the services to eventually be approved in smaller cities around Alberta in the future.