Several cities in Canada are trying a new strategy to reduce overdoses among users of opiates and other injectible, illicit drugs. Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge are getting ready to open their first supervised, consumption sites, with the approval of Health Canada, the national health agency.
Four supervised consumption sites are scheduled to open in Edmonton between late 2017 and early 2018, with one in Calgary and one in Lethbridge slated to open in early 2018.
Health Canada has approved three supervised injection sites in Toronto, and local officials expect they will be operational be the end of the year. In August, Toronto officials opened a temporary supervised injection site in the city’s downtown.
Earlier in August, harm reduction workers had set up an unsanctioned, safe injection site in Toronto’s Moss Park, after a spike in fatal and non-fatal overdoses, many believed caused by fentanyl.
Meanwhile, a number of cities in the U.S. are considering setting up supervised consumption sites, including San Francisco, Philadelphia, Denver and Seattle. Earlier this year, the American Medical Association announced its support for creating pilot sites in the U.S
The sites are intended to prevent overdose deaths, reduce the spread of infections via used needles, and create safer communities.
The Canadian sites will use a model developed by Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton (AMSISE), a group of 25 community, medical, academic, and public sector representatives. The group has been working together since 2012 to assess the need, look at best practices in other cities, and develop a ‘made in Edmonton’ model.
In Edmonton, beginning in the spring, there will be three community injection facilities, and a fourth for inpatients at Royal Alexandra Hospital, which is the first hospital in North America to do so.
Insite, a stand-alone medically supervised injecting facility in Vancouver, was the first to offer services in North America 14 years ago, and is still in operation. Researchers at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the Department of Medicine at the University of British Columbia have monitored Insite’s results.
They concluded that: Insite is being used by the people it was intended for; has reduced HIV risk behavior; that it promotes treatment of addiction; and reduced overdose risk. Insite has not led to increased drug use or increased crime, according to the researchers.
The Edmonton sites will initially only offer supervised injection services. The site in Lethbridge will offer other services covering oral, inhalation and intra-nasal consumption. The other services may eventually be added in Edmonton, Alberta Health Press Secretary Laura Ehrkamp told Daily Hive.com.
“These sites will save the lives of Albertans at risk of dying from a drug overdose,” said Alberta’s Associate Minister of Health, Brandy Payne, in the release. “We are pleased with the decision by Health Canada and thankful for the hard work by health care leaders and community groups to bring these services to the Albertans who need them.”
Calgary is preparing to open a temporary supervised drug consumption site, with a permanent one being built in the following months.The permanent Calgary location will be in the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, but until that opens in early 2018, a temporary site will be operating out Chumir’s surface area parking lot, officials said.
Before the Edmonton sites were approved by Health Canada, AMSISE surveyed 1,869 Edmonton residents. They found 81 percent of those surveyed were in favor of opening supervised consumption sites.
In a statement, AMSISE cautioned that medically supervised consumption services are not a complete solution, but one part of a comprehensive approach to promote health and social well-being.
“To be effective we need prevention, harm reduction and treatment. No single approach is going to solve the whole problem. Supervised consumption services are one important factor in saving lives and keeping communities safe,” AMSISE said.