Pubdate: Sat, 21 Oct 2017
Source: Lethbridge Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Lethbridge Herald
Author: Melissa Villeneuve
Page: A1


Supervised drug consumption site set to open Jan. 2

What's old will be renewed again in a bid to save lives from the
rising number of drug overdoses in Lethbridge. Government officials
and local media received a tour Friday of the city's future supervised
consumption site, currently under construction.

The former Pulse nightclub is being transformed into what will become
a "clean and safe space" area for drug users to snort, inhale, inject
or swallow drugs while under the supervision of healthcare
professionals and without fear of arrest.

Health Canada approved the site's exemption from federal drug
legislation on Wednesday. The Lethbridge site is the first in North
America to be granted the exemption for all four modes of

ARCHES Lethbridge, a local harm reduction agency, will operate the
site with wraparound services dedicated to prevention, addictions
counselling, housing and employment services, and more.

"We're excited to get started on the renovations and we're looking
forward to opening at the beginning of 2018," said Stacey Bourque,
ARCHES executive director.

Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the province was
"very clear" with the federal government that it was looking to
fast-track the exemptions for Lethbridge and Edmonton so communities
"could face the opioid crisis head on."

"The province took a leadership position in terms of its funding as
well," said Phillips. "This space over the next year and some will
benefit from $2 million of provincial investment which will assist
people with substance use dependency, will assist our downtown
businesses, will ensure that people are getting the treatment they
need for a crisis that is only increasing and is causing a lot of
human devastation." ARCHES will also receive about $1.6 million
annually for operations. They will have about 10,000 square feet to
operate within the building, located at 1016 1 Ave. S.

The west side of the building will house the consumption site. There
will be six booths for injection and two rooms for inhalation, with a
maximum of six people allowed in each space at a time.

"People can also use internasally or orally at the booths that are
there," said Bourque. "There is also a waiting room and an observation
area that people can stay in as well."

The area will be staffed by registered nurses or LPNs, harm reduction
specialists and addictions counsellors. The east side of the building
will be used for offices and meeting space.

The building will also feature an enhanced ventilation system to
ensure workplace health and safety for employees and clients. It's
been mechanically engineered to exchange air flow at a higher rate
than a regular system, along with an emergency switch system to
automatically turn air over. Masks will be kept onsite and policies
and procedures put in place.

The location 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.

ARCHES is hopeful they can open the new site on Jan. 2, 2018. They
will move their operations over from their existing location on 6
Avenue South.

Opening in the winter months will be helpful, said Bourque, as many
will be looking for warmer spaces to conduct their activities.

"We're hoping a pattern might be created before the weather gets
warmer and then we'll see improvement in the community issues as well
around drug consumption and needle debris."

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 elsewhere in the province.

"We have increased drug use in our community. We know methamphetamine
and fentanyl are both being injected at high rates," said Bourque. "We
just have to keep working within the community to try and address the
underlying root causes of addiction, focus on mental health, but also
be able to provide supports for people to meet them where they're at,
hence the harm reduction."

It is a very controversial issue and there are a lot of misconceptions
around the facility, said Bourque. Some believe they are only enabling
drug use without providing any additional help or support. But the
health care and social supports they provide and the relationships
they build have been effective in helping drug users access more care
and possibly detox and treatment, she explained.

"So when they want the help, we're where they come and we don't expect
that will change," said Bourque. "The more access we have to people
who use drugs the safer they feel. The longer we can keep them alive
it just means they can make a better decision on another day. If they
die, obviously they lose that opportunity."

Some express concerns that tax dollars are used to support such a
facility. But Bourque argues those tax dollars are already being spent
on the issue in other areas.

"Whether it's for police service intervention, EMS intervention,
hospitalizations, emergency room visits, all of that stuff plays a
role and tax dollars go towards that. This is a much cheaper option
than continuing to put pressure on those emergency services in our

A number of local organizations saw the need to work quickly and
cohesively to determine an effective response to the opioid crisis, to
co-ordinate services and help save lives. They formed the Lethbridge
Executive Leaders Coalition on Opioid Use, which has been meeting
monthly since November 2016. It includes representatives from the
health, police, justice, emergency medical, post-secondary, municipal,
education and social service sectors.

"It's a significant social issue in our city," said Mayor Chris
Spearman. "We have been supporting this with our city resources saying
'this is an important issue to address.' You have to remember four
years ago this didn't exist. It's come up in the last two years as a
serious social issue in our city and I'm pleased we are responding as
quickly as we can."

Spearman commended the work of ARCHES and the coalition for their
diligent work. The coalition will continue to meet regularly and the
next focus is on community and prevention education.

"We really struggle because we talk about people who use drugs as 'the
other' all of the time, but they are not 'the other,'" said Bourque.
"They are our mothers, our fathers, our children, other family
members, our colleagues, our friends in this community. And we have to
remember that going forward. Everybody deserves to be treated with
dignity and respect and I think it's important to remember that as a
community and do whatever we can to make it happen."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt