A temporary supervised drug consumption site will open in the coming days at a health centre in Calgary's core now that the federal government has approved a plan submitted by Alberta Health Services, officials announced Friday.
The temporary site will operate out of a modular structure on the surface parking lot at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, 1213 Fourth St. S.W., while construction is completed on a permanent location inside the building.
"Each life lost to opioid use is one too many," said Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne, as she announced Health Canada's approval on Friday.
"Our first priority must be to keep Albertans alive."
The health crisis associated with opioid drugs is having a devastating effect on families in Calgary and around the province, she said.
"I thank Health Canada for working with us on targeted, comprehensive actions to address opioids," she said.
The permanent site is expected to open in early 2018.
A registered nurse will supervise the consumption of drugs while introducing clients to the other health and social services already offered at the Chumir centre. That includes the opioid dependency program, where people have access to treatment, including methadone and counselling.
Supervised consumption sites can save lives, reducing the transmission of infections by providing clean needles, while making communities safer by reducing public drug use and discarded needles, Alberta Health said in a release.
Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley said the Beltline community has been supportive of the plan.
During the recent municipal election campaign, the consumption site at the Chumir centre was one issue he and his three opponents all agreed on, and he heard the same thing while out door-knocking, he said.
'We've come a long way'
"As a society, and as a city, we've come a long way in this conversation," he said.
Jessica Holtsbaum with Changing the Face of Addiction called the new site a long-overdue step in the right direction.
"This is great news. We feel this site will have a positive impact on the community. It will save lives and provide those with substance-use disorders an access point to further treatment," she said in a release.
Health Canada approved five other sites in Alberta last week: four in Edmonton and one in Lethbridge. They are anticipated to open later this year or early 2018.
In 2016, 149 people died of fentanyl-related overdoses in Calgary. Across the province, 343 people lost their lives to the drug last year.
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