Officials have unveiled plans for the first supervised drug use site in Calgary, to be located at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in the city's core.
The province is applying for permission from Health Canada to open the site and will immediately begin a consultation process with the surrounding community while that process is underway, said Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne, who made the announcement along with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and police Chief Roger Chaffin at the centre.
"We have heard the calls for bold action," she said, noting that Calgary has been hard hit by the mounting rate of opioid-related deaths.
"This is how we will turn the tide and this is how we will save lives."
Ottawa recently passed Bill C-37, which streamlines the application process for safe drug consumption sites by reducing the information burden on applicants and speeds up the application and renewal processes.
The first safe consumption sites in Canada were set up in Vancouver, which has two currently, another in the works and two more planned for nearby Surrey. Health Canada approved three sites in Montreal in February, and three in Toronto in June.
In Edmonton, supervised injection sites have been proposed at three inner-city community centres — Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Street Community Services and the George Spady Centre.
Payne said it's hoped the site at the Sheldon M. Chumir site will be operational by the end of the year. She said locations for additional sites in Calgary are also under consideration.
Supervised sites save lives
Supervised consumption sites are internationally recognized as an effective way to save lives.
"Research shows they do not increase drug use or criminal activity," Payne said.
The province says the Sheldon M. Chumir centre was identified as a potential site for supervised drug use services as it provides a range of wrap-around supports, including opioid dependency treatment and a needle-distribution program.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he wishes a safe drug consumption site wasn't needed, but it is.
In 2016, 149 people died of fentanyl-related overdoses in Calgary. Across the province, 343 people lost their lives to the drug last year.
The problem that we're facing is real, it's dire and it's urgent," Nenshi said.
"We must move forward based on the evidence, and the evidence is that these services keep people alive."
Nenshi said the city, the Calgary police and the province agree the implementation of harm-reducing consumption sites must go hand in hand with three other pillars of the strategy — prevention, treatment and enforcement.
"All of these things have to happen together," he said.
"We cannot arrest our way out of this crisis. But, we've got to arrest."
Calgary police chief Roger Chaffin said it's important to remember that addiction is not a crime, and that there are many issues at play, including homelessness and mental health.
"It is not a crime to be addicted. Having an avenue to develop relationships with our vulnerable populations will help us find opportunities to get them the treatment they need to find their way out of addiction," he said.
"This in turn will assist in addressing the root causes of drug-related crime."
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