Pubdate: Thu, 10 Aug 2017
Source: Lethbridge Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Lethbridge Herald
Author: Melissa Villeneuve
Page: A1


ARCHES identifies former downtown area nightclub as a future
medically-supervised drug consumption site

A former downtown area nightclub has been pegged as the location for a
future medically-supervised drug consumption site. ARCHES Lethbridge,
a harm reduction agency, made the announcement on Wednesday that it
had filed an application on July 31 with Health Canada to establish
the services at the site formerly known as Pulse Nightclub. The
facility requires a federal exemption to allow drug use inside the

The application met the approval of the Lethbridge Executive Leaders
Coalition on Opioid Use, which has been meeting since November 2016 to
determine an effective response to the opioid crisis, to co-ordinate
services and help save lives. They completed a sixmonth comprehensive
needs assessment to determine whether such a site was needed and if
so, what would be an appropriate location. A number of stakeholder
interviews were completed and last month, they held nine community
information sessions.

The location chosen, 1016 1 Ave. S., was determined to be best suited
due to its close proximity to primary areas where public drug use
occurs, its proximity to public transit, and the fact that it is well
away from residential neighbourhoods. There is a high incidence of
overdoses occurring within a 1.5-kilometre radius of the identified
site, said Jill Manning ARCHES Managing Director. Thirty-eight per
cent of emergency calls related to overdoses happen within that radius.

"The nice thing about that location is it's very close to many of the
hotspots that we know currently exist within our community," she said.
"Also, we wanted to ensure we aren't close to any residential
properties. We recognize that isn't an appropriate space for these
types of services to be integrated."

ARCHES is currently located in a residential area on 6 Avenue South.
Manning said they plan to relocate their existing harm reduction
operations and services such as housing supports and addictions
counselling to the new facility in the next six months.

ARCHES will have about 10,000 square feet to operate within the
building, and staff have already begun contacting neighbouring businesses.

Mayor Chris Spearman anticipates council members will hear some
feedback. Supervised consumption services are a permitted use under
the existing land-use zoning for the site.

"People will have concerns. It's normal that they would," Spearman
said. "They might think there will be loitering or other issues, and
the research shows these facilities don't have a negative impact on
the businesses around them. So we're confident the location is the
correct one and that this will be a success in the city."

Spearman visited the Health Ministry when he was in Ottawa in June. He
told them how the drug issue in Canada isn't limited to the larger
cities, but affects smaller communities, too, including Lethbridge. He
hopes the federal government will be receptive to the application and
treat it expeditiously.

"We are committed to addressing social issues in the community," he
said. "To do nothing would allow the crime rate to increase, would
allow more needless deaths. To take action and try and resolve the
issue - the supervised consumption providing safety in a site that's
secure - is important and we need to do that to address those issues."

Lethbridge Police Service Insp. Tom Ascroft agrees. He believes a lot
of the issues the police service is dealing with right now will be
reduced or in some part resolved.

"This will put it in a central location that's easier to manage and
control," said Ascroft. "I'm quite confident that ARCHES will do a
good job of managing the facility in the area and I don't think we're
going to experience near the kinds of problems we have community-wide
as a result."

The visibility of public drug use has rapidly increased over the past
18 months. Police and Fire/EMS personnel are frequently called to
assist with opioid overdoses and to remove needle debris from public

There are an estimated 3,000 drug users in Lethbridge, and double that
number within southwest Alberta. Overdose rates are 24 per cent higher
in the South Zone than anywhere else in the province.

A total of 559 Albertans died last year from opioid-related drug
overdoses. Of those deaths, 363 were attributed to fentanyl or

In the first quarter of 2017, 117 Albertans died from a fentanyl or
carfentanil overdose, almost double from the same time last year.

Opioid overdose death tolls continue to rise and the province is on
track to lose two people per day, said Manning.

"We do anticipate that this problem will continue to get worse,
unfortunately, before it will get better," she said. "We really need
to do something to try to mitigate those losses. Not only the losses
in terms of deaths, but the losses we're seeing as far as our
financial resources being used by Fire/EMS responses, by emergency
room visits..."

Supervised consumption services provide a clean, safe space for people
who use drugs to do so under the supervision and care of health
professionals without fear of arrest or overdose. They also provide
access to support services such as counselling, education and
treatment for drug addictions.

Lethbridge is the third city in Alberta that has applied for a
supervised consumption site. The other two are Calgary and Edmonton.

Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman provided support for the
application, issued through a press release. She commended the members
of the coalition for their hard work and "passionate advocacy" to
obtain these services.

"Supervised consumption services saves lives, and they are a vital
component of Alberta's broader opioid emergency response," said
Hoffman. "I know that families, first responders and all residents of
Lethbridge have been hit hard by the opioid emergency."

Lethbridge-East MLA Maria Fitzpatrick said she's pleased the Alberta
government and the health minister have pledged their support for the
site. Provincial funding has also been committed to assist with
capital and operational costs. The cost to run the facility is
estimated at $1.5 million per year.

"Setting up a facility is one thing, but you have to keep it going.
Certainly you are dealing with that problem and making things better,"
said Fitzpatrick, who formerly spent 32 years in corrections. "I can
tell you addictions is a huge problem, and much bigger right now with
the fentanyl crisis that we've been facing.

"This is a community problem," she said. "And this is a community

Although the site is still pending federal drug exemption approval,
having provincial funding means the project can move forward, said
Manning. Working together with the federal government and Health
Canada, Manning anticipates they will be able to meet the

"There is a strong commitment towards these types of facilities
Canadawide," said Manning. "And the reason for that is we do know
statistically and through pretty extensive research that they do have
many proven benefits for the community and they are effective in
battling the overdose crisis and the deaths we're currently seeing."

Manning is hopeful they will get approval in the next six to eight
months, and be operational by early 2018.
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