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B.C. overdose prevention sites should be template for others: report

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VANCOUVER — It was a day Heather Hobbs recalls vividly: the staff at AIDS Vancouver Island had pulled another overdose victim from the washroom, his body was blue from a lack of oxygen.

The man was revived and they closed the office in Victoria to allow staff to regroup. At the same time, in an alley just a half a block away, another of their clients was dying from an overdose.

Hobbs said she remembers seeing the man leave the facility as they began cleaning up from the overdose. His death was the tipping point for the implementation of an overdose prevention site at their facility, even though they weren’t yet legal, she said.

“I feel like it’s possible, had we not had to have closed, that he would still be alive. So it’s those moments that stick with me and really drive it home that these spaces are essential in terms of keeping people alive,” said Hobbs, who is the manager of harm reduction services for AIDS Vancouver Island.

In April 2016, the B.C. government declared a public health emergency in the overdose crisis, allowing for the unprecedented implementation of the prevention facilities. Within weeks, 20 sites had mushroomed around the province.

A new study by researchers at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research concludes the rapid implementation of the sites should be used as a template for other governments to save lives.

The study says the quick response of the provincial government and community groups is an “international example of an alternative to the lengthy and cumbersome sanctioning processes for (supervised consumption sites.)”

The report, published this month in the International Journal of Drug Policy, says other government demands for public consultations and an intensive application process “are highly questionable in the context of legal drug poisonings and evidence-based alternatives such as (overdose prevention sites.)”

Health Canada approves the supervised consumption sites, which require an exemption from federal drug laws, while the overdose prevention sites in B.C. are sanctioned under the provincial health minister’s declaration of a public health emergency.

Bruce Wallace, co-author of the report, a scientist at the institute and an associate professor at the University of Victoria, said the study demonstrates how unnecessary the approval process is elsewhere.

“Our research is showing that the benefits of being able to have overdose prevention sites at so many different locations and really integrated with housing, health and social support is a model to go for, rather than going back to the federal processes, which are more onerous to set up and more limited in scope.”

The BC Coroners Service said 991 people died of illicit drug overdoses in 2016, 1,486 died the next year and 1,510 were killed by illicit drugs in 2018. The dramatic rise in deaths coincides with emergence of the powerful opioid fentanyl, which the coroner says is responsible for the majority of illicit drug deaths.

Canada’s Public Health Agency said last week that 3,286 people died of apparent opioid-related deaths between January and September last year.

The report draws on interviews from staff at three of the prevention sites in Victoria to determine their impact.

Wallace said he’s frustrated that other jurisdictions in Canada aren’t adopting the same innovate practices to save lives, especially because they’ve been warned that dangerous opioids are moving into their provinces. 

“So to have that level of warning of the potential harm and not act, it’s really tragic that people would not take these lessons and adopt them as fast as they can in other jurisdictions.”

The Ontario government announced in late March that while 15 overdose prevention sites had been approved, six others would close, including three in Toronto.

Judy Darcy, B.C.’s mental health and addictions minister, said there are about 40 overdose prevention sites across B.C. with over one million visits. Thousands of overdoses have been reversed and there have been no deaths at the sites, she added. 

Darcy said it’s estimated the government’s actions, including the prevention sites, take-home naloxone kits and other prevention measures, have saved about 4,700 lives.

She said the prevention sites are a critical tool that also connect visitors to other supports, such as housing or treatment. But the stigma remains, Darcy said, and that is the next barrier to knock down.

“For too long we have treated mental health, mental illness as a sign of weakness and addiction as a character failure and as a sign of moral failure,” she said. “These centres don’t judge people. They’re there to save lives, they’re there to connect people to the social supports they need.”

Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

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Alberta

Location for Red Deer Recovery Centre revealed. First clients will be accepted late this year.

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News Releases from the Province of Alberta and the City of Red Deer

Red Deer recovery community moving ahead

A 10-acre parcel of land in north Red Deer will be the new home of the 75-bed recovery community.

Alberta’s government and the City of Red Deer worked together to pick the location within the Chiles Industrial Park, directly adjacent to Highway 2A. Construction of the recovery community is anticipated to start this fall.

“Supporting people to find their path to long-term recovery remains a commitment of our government – but we can’t reach this goal alone. Thank you to the City of Red Deer for their dedication to working together to find a site that considers the needs of those seeking support, businesses, local residents and the community as a whole.”

Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions

“Thanks to the work of officials at Alberta Infrastructure, in partnership with the City of Red Deer, we are another step closer to having a new home to better support Albertans suffering from addictions on their path to recovery.”

Prasad Panda, Minister of Infrastructure

Recovery communities, also known as therapeutic communities, are a form of long-term residential treatment for addiction and used in more than 65 countries around the world.

“The identification of the location of the future therapeutic community marks an important next step towards a solution to many of the health and social challenges our community has contended with for years due to lack of comprehensive health and social infrastructure and programming in our city and region. This project will help respond to the long-standing need for local residential addictions treatment to help address community impacts of the national drug crisis.”

Tara Veer, mayor, City of Red Deer

“This announcement means we are one step closer to adding this life-saving support to our community. While new to Alberta, recovery communities have proven to be effective in helping individuals reach long-term addiction recovery. I look forward to the positive difference this new support will have.”

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education and MLA for Red Deer-North

“Addictions have the capacity to disconnect our wills and rob us of the power to decide, inflicting suffering on ourselves, our families and communities. I’m proud to be part of a government focused on supporting Albertans seeking to become free from addictions. Recovery communities are special places, where individuals love and serve each other in their individual journeys to recovery. These are places of miracles, blessing and healing our neighbours, families and communities. This is very exciting news!”

Jason Stephan, MLA for Red Deer-South

Alberta’s government is committed to a recovery-oriented system of care that provides easy access to a full continuum of services. A $140-million investment over four years is supporting the addition of new publicly funded treatment spaces; the elimination of daily user fees for publicly funded residential addiction treatment; and services to reduce harm, such as the Digital Overdose Prevention System app, the introduction of nasal naloxone kits and the expansion of opioid agonist therapy.

This $140-million commitment is in addition to the more than $800 million Alberta Health Services spends annually to provide mental health and addiction services in communities across the province.

Quick facts

  • Alberta’s government is investing in mental health and addictions:
    • $140 million over four years to enhance the mental health and addiction care system and create more publicly funded treatment spaces. This funding includes $40 million specifically to support the opioid response.
    • More than $53 million to implement more online, phone and in-person mental health and addiction recovery supports to make it easier for Albertans to access services from anywhere in Alberta during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • For anyone using opioids, naloxone kits are available free of charge at pharmacies across the province. Call 911 in an emergency.
  • The Addiction Helpline, a 24-7 confidential toll-free service, at 1-866-332-2322, can provide support, information and referral to services. Treatment can also start right away by calling the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program (VODP) seven days per week at 1-844-383-7688.

From the City of Red Deer

Province finalizes site for future therapeutic community

The future location for a therapeutic community in Red Deer was announced today, with the Provincial Government identifying 10 acres of land within the Chiles Industrial Park as the future site in Red Deer. The facility, announced on June 18, 2020, will be home to 75 treatment beds and will provide long-term residential treatment to individuals struggling with addiction.

  1. Where will the future therapeutic community be located?The 10 acres of land identified for development of the Provincial residential treatment community is located approximately one kilometre north of Highway 11A and Gaetz Avenue, in the Chiles Industrial Park, directly adjacent to Highway 2A in north Red Deer.
  2. How was the location chosen?The Province of Alberta and City of Red Deer worked collaboratively to select a location that responds to the long-standing need for residential treatment in Red Deer. The site was selected as there is enough available land for the self-contained facility, it is away from the urban core but still accessible to community services such as health care, and is vacant and able to be temporarily developed within the timeframe needed.

    Ten acres of land located in the Chiles Industrial Park in north Red Deer was identified as the future site for the facility. This site respects the needs of future clients, businesses, residents and the entire community in mind.

  3. Who owns the land, which is designated for the future therapeutic community?Formerly owned by The City of Red Deer, the Province of Alberta signed an agreement to purchase the land from The City of Red Deer with the intent to build a therapeutic community. The agreement is in place for five to ten years, and if the Government of Alberta chooses to move the facility to another site, the land will return to The City of Red Deer.
  4. When will the land be developed?The transfer of the land will occur on or before fall of 2021, with the Province currently indicating it plans to start accepting clients by the end of the year. Development is expected to begin this summer.
  5. What zoning and approval processes are needed before development can proceed?The Province of Alberta has indicated they intend to get the facility up and running as quickly as possible, and will be responsible for zoning and policy considerations. Citizens with questions or concerns about approvals and development processes can reach out to the Ministry of Infrastructure, or to our local MLAs (Mr. Jason Stephan, MLA for Red Deer South or the Honourable Adriana LaGrange, MLA for Red Deer North: www.assembly.ab.ca/members/members-of-the-legislative-assembly).
  6. Who will operate the future therapeutic community?The site will be owned by the Province, and operated by an accredited agency. The Provincial Government will be launching a formal request for proposal (RFP) process to select an agency to operate the facility.
  7. How much will the future therapeutic community cost?The estimated cost for the future facility is still to be determined, with all funding coming from The Province of Alberta as part of its economic recovery plan. There is no City of Red Deer operating investment into this facility. The City, however is contributing in-kind capital contributions through a utility connection to bring water and sewer servicing to the development as well as providing some additional landscaping for the area.

 

From The Mayor of Red Deer

Mayor Veer responds to Provincial therapeutic community announcement on behalf of City Council

“The future location for a new therapeutic community in Red Deer was announced today, with the Provincial Government identifying 10 acres of land located in north Red Deer as the future site for the facility.Formerly owned by The City of Red Deer, the Province of Alberta has signed an agreement to purchase land from The City with the intent to build the new therapeutic community. The agreement is in place for five to ten years, and if the Government of Alberta chooses to move the facility to another site, the land will return to The City of Red Deer. Once built, the new facility will be home to 75 treatment beds and will provide long-term residential treatment to individuals struggling with addiction. As this is a Provincial project, there is no operating investment from The City, however The City is contributing in-kind capital contributions through a utility connection to bring water and sewer servicing to the development as well as providing some additional landscaping for the area.

The identification of this land marks the next step towards a solution to many of the health and social challenges our community has contended with for years due to lack of comprehensive health and social infrastructure and programming in our city and region. This project will help respond to the long-standing need for local residential addictions treatment to help address community impacts of the national drug crisis.

Located approximately one kilometer north of Highway 11A and Gaetz Avenue in the Chiles Industrial Park, directly adjacent to Highway 2A and outside the urban core, this site respects the anticipated needs of future clients who are being treated for their addictions, while considering the needs of businesses and the entire community in mind. This location also repurposes underutilized public lands.

Development is expected to occur this summer, with all further development processes and approvals now under the jurisdiction of the Province of Alberta.

On behalf of my fellow members of Council, I would like to extend our thanks to the Government of Alberta for hearing us and fulfilling this long-standing imperative for our community, and for supporting us in our call for securing a residential treatment site in Red Deer.

Citizens with questions or concerns about approvals and development processes can reach out to the Ministry of Infrastructure, or to our local MLAs (Mr. Jason Stephan, MLA for Red Deer South or the Honourable Adriana LaGrange, MLA for Red Deer North: www.assembly.ab.ca/members/members-of-the-legislative-assembly).”

 

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