Supervised Consumption Sites
Updated: Jul 27
Approximately 21% of Canadians will experience substance abuse disorders at some point in their lives. Across our country, nearly 81,000 people ended up in our hospitals due to substance-related harm in 2020. There was an unprecedented increase in emergency room visits related to opioids and central nervous system stimulants like cocaine during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 900 Albertans died from opiate poisonings in the first 10 months of 2020. How did our city and province respond to the influx of substance-related harm? The funding for harm reduction policies, programs and supervised consumption sites were drastically cut back. In Edmonton, we closed the doors of one of our safe consumption sites leaving only two designated sites left open to the public. This seems a little counterproductive. I believe that it is imperative that our city council puts more pressure on our provincial government to increase the funding for harm reduction facilities and programs. We are not doing enough.
Supervised Consumption Sites (SCSs) are harm reduction programs that offer access to sterile drug-using supplies, health services, hygiene products, and community-based support. A common misconception associated with SCSs is that they provide addicts with free drugs. Currently, Edmontonians do not have access to a safe supply of pharmaceutical-grade drugs through Safe Consumption sites. I believe that offering addicts pre-measured doses of safe, pharmaceutical-grade drugs and alternatives would drastically decrease the number of drug-related poisonings and death. If increased access to supervised consumption and safe supply is achieved we would likely see a decrease in drug-related crime as well. Addicts would not be forced into committing immoral acts in order to procure their next fix.
The main purpose of SCSs is to provide a safe environment that reduces the dangers of drug use, improves the mental and physical health of drug users and reduce crime and social disorder. Upon the introduction of Safe Consumption Sites in our city, the number of needles reported to 311 dropped from 7,455 in 2017 to 3,845 in 2018. I find it concerning that a panel of 8 people stated that one of the largest issues around SCSs is the increase of needle debris when the numbers prove that this simply isn't true. Before we implement and enforce unjust regulations on how SCSs operate in our city, we need access to accurate, high-quality evidence-based research and statistics that are collected in the absence of stigmatized bias. Only then will we be able to adequately weigh the pros and cons of safe consumption sites. When this is achieved I believe the overall reluctance to allow these programs to operate in our high traffic communities would decrease exponentially.
According to numerous studies that have been done across Canada and the United States, safe consumption sites are an economically sound service that can be provided to citizens struggling with substance abuse disorders. A study done by the University of Alberta reported that the average cost per visit to an SCS was $62.19. In these facilities, immediate intervention and life-saving measures can be taken in the event of poisonings and overdoses. There has not been a single drug-related death in any of Alberta’s safe consumption sites. As of May 2019, a total of 4,305 drug poisonings and overdoses have been reversed by staff in Alberta SCSs. The cost of EMS and emergency room intervention in the event of a single drug poisoning or overdose costs on average $1,061 according to statistics provided by the Alberta Government and Edmonton’s Emergency Health Services.
Our City Council needs to do our part in educating the public about the truths behind addiction and minimize the division between “us and them”. Addiction affects people from all walks of life. We see substance abuse and drug poisonings in all communities across our city. Although municipal governments do not have much involvement in how our province handles health services, we need people on council who will advocate for vulnerable citizens and put pressure on our provincial government to make changes so that Edmontonians struggling with addiction receive the trauma-informed care they so desperately need.