NDP says safe drug consumption site coming soon to Calgary

Associate health minister Brandy Payne says she anticipates a supervised consumption site for users of dangerous opioids will be operating in Calgary within months.

Payne also said Thursday she expects there will ultimately be multiple safe-consumption sites in the city to try to combat a rising death toll from fentanyl and other opioids.

A Calgary application for a supervised consumption site is one of five Canada proposals — the rest are from Edmonton — that have been submitted to Health Canada for an exemption under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Payne said the NDP government expects the facility will be up and running soon.

“If I could open one yesterday, I would,” she told reporters at a homeless funding announcement.

“But our understanding is we are probably looking at a few months down the line.”


Safe-consumption sites provide a medically supervised place for addicts to inject or consume drugs in order to reduce fatalities. Canada saw 113 deaths from fentanyl in the first three months of 2017, a 61 per cent increase over the same period a year earlier. More than 50 of those deaths were in Calgary.

Payne said there is funding within the 2017-18 provincial budget for the operation of any safe-consumption sites that open during the current fiscal year.

Postmedia has learned that one of the locations being considered for Calgary is the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre in the Beltline.

“A key piece of what we’re looking at with respect to location is how quickly initial sites could open,” said Payne, who did not comment on potential locations.

“It is our assumption there will likely be more than one site operating in Calgary, but our goal is to get that first site open as quickly as possible.”

Payne said the government wants to ensure that the sites also have wraparound services to help people struggling with addictions.

Liberal MLA David Swann said the NDP government needs to push Ottawa to move quickly to approve a Calgary facility.

“I would be on the phone every day with the federal minister, saying, ‘all you have to do is say yes,’ ” said Swann.

Leslie Hill, co-chair of the Calgary Coalition on Supervised Consumption, said she expects there will be more applications for Calgary consumption sites brought forward to Health Canada.

“Calgary has the highest rate of overdose in the province,” Hill said.

“We know there is a huge need so it makes sense to me that there would end up being multiple sites in the city.”

She said the coalition is currently conducting a needs assessment that could help identify potential locations in Calgary for future consumption sites.

There are currently two existing Canadian safe-consumption sites, both in Vancouver.

Health Canada last week approved three supervised injection sites in Toronto and has previously given the go-ahead to three supervised injection sites in Montreal, as well as a mobile consumption site in that city, as well as two in Surrey and another in Vancouver.

Rosalind Davis, co-founder of the organization Changing the Face of Addiction, said she wants to see more urgency from authorities.

Davis, who lost her partner to fentanyl, said supervised consumption sites offer not only some safety, but the opportunity to get people suffering from addiction into treatment.

“It is s place where people can begin to feel safe and they can begin to feel that judgement reduced and have someone offer a path to getting better,” Davis said.

With files from Meghan Potkins.



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