Pubdate: Sat, 17 Dec 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Carrie Tait and Andrea Woo
Page: S1


Calgary's police chief is open to introducing supervised facilities
for drug users, so long as such programs are part of a larger strategy
to lower addiction rates and address problems that accompany drug
dependency, such as crime and joblessness.

"It always makes police chiefs look resistant when they say no to
these things. My answer has been: 'Sure, as long as it is part of a
better strategy,' " Calgary Police Service Chief Roger Chaffin said in
an interview this week.

"I'd be more mindful of it if it was part of a more robust strategy to
lower the issues of addiction."

Alberta is in the midst of a drug crisis that has also hit several
other provinces, most notably British Columbia, with opioids such as
fentanyl at the centre of the problem.

Supervised drug-use sites, such as two already operating in Vancouver,
are designed to reduce risks for drug users because health
professionals are there to quickly treat overdoses.

The federal government this week proposed legislation that would make
it easier for cities to open supervised drug-use facilities, so long
as they can prove there is a need, consult the community, show they
will reduce crime, demonstrate they have the resources to run the
facilities and follow regulations.

Toronto has applied for three small facilities; Montreal, about two
years ago, asked permission to build three supervised injection
facilities and a mobile operation; and Vancouver wants to expand its
program by adding up to five more supervised facilities.

Chief Chaffin recognizes supervised facilities reduce harm, but that,
he said, is not enough to start construction.

"The goal really is not to have the sites. Those sites have to be
attached to a strategy to help these people who are suffering
addictions," he said.

"If we can get better answers to it, I'd be more than happy to get
behind it and say 'Let's do something we're currently not doing.' "

By way of example, Chief Chaffin said the province needs more beds
available in addiction-treatment facilities so supervisors at drug-use
facilities, as well as officers on the street, can connect users with
resources to address their underlying problems. Further, all major
players - Alberta Health, Alberta Justice, police, social-service
providers - must work together to solve the drug crisis, he said.In
Vancouver, the city's force is also pushing for more treatment.
Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer held a news conference with the
city's mayor on Friday to announce there had been nine fatal overdoses
the night before, compared with an average of about 15 fatalities a
month earlier this year.

Chief Palmer, whose department has been largely supportive of the
city's two supervised injection sites, said harm reduction alone is
not enough.

"There is a lot of focus right now placed on harm reduction because
people's lives are at immediate risk. That is a tactic that we
understand and support," he said.

"The fentanyl crisis, however, is bringing a new level of urgency to
address the lack of detox and treatment options available to people.
We need a longer-term strategy to help people in crisis."

Health Canada has sanctioned just two supervised-consumption sites in
the country, both in Vancouver. While the Vancouver sites focus solely
on injection drugs, proponents also want such facilities to watch over
methods of drug use, such as inhalation.

David Hodgins is a psychology professor specializing in addictions.
Safe-consumption sites, he said, can fit with the Calgary police
chief's demands.

"We're a little bit slow on embracing ideas like safe-injection
sites," the University of Calgary professor said. "It is really
focusing on immediately making people safer, and then using that as a
stepping stone toward longer-term solutions," such as getting addicts
into programs to help them ditch street drugs.

In Alberta, 338 people have died from apparent overdoses tied to
fentanyl or other opioids in the first nine months of 2016, according
to Alberta Health. The department believes 193 of these deaths were
related to fentanyl. This marks a 65-per-cent increase over the 205
fentanyl-related deaths in the same stretch in 2015, Alberta Health
calculates. Prescription-grade fentanyl is 100 times more powerful
than morphine. A dose equivalent to the weight of two grains of salt
can be deadly for an adult.

The picture is even worse in neighbouring British Columbia, where more
than 600 people had died by the end of October, 2016. The figure is
expected to top 750 by the end of the year.

Fentanyl has hit Calgary harder than any other place in Alberta. The
city accounts for 84 of the province's 193 fentanyl-related deaths in
the first nine months of the year; Edmonton places second, with 59
deaths, according to the province's statistics.

"Fentanyl and methamphetamine particularly are really behind the decay
in the community right now," CPS's Chief Chaffin said.

"If you add the economic downturn on top of that, and some of the
hopelessness in the community in this massive amount of drug
dependency and addiction, these issues need to be addressed."

The increasing number of deaths related to fentanyl and other drugs in
Alberta has put stress on the province's Office of the Chief Medical
Examiner. There are seven medical examiners in Alberta and an eighth
will start in Calgary next April, filling a vacancy. The surge in drug
abuse includes some substances never before seen in the province,
making it tricky for medical examiners to identify what drugs are
contributing to the overdose crisis.

"It makes it more difficult to routinely screen for a number of drugs,
so it's taking more technologists' time, it's taking more instrument
time and requiring more sensitive instruments in order to efficiently
get that work done," Graham Jones, Alberta's chief toxicologist, said
in an interview last week.

- - With files from Jeff Lewis
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