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Alberta in talks to open overdose prevention sites

New operations in Clagary and Edmonton expected to replace Calgary’s only supervised consumption site
A man waits to enter the Safeworks supervised consumption site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Alberta says it is in talks with social agencies in the province’s two major cities to open new drug overdose prevention sites.

Two are expected to take the place of Calgary’s only supervised consumption site, which has seen an average of 10,000 visits each month since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The province said it is waiting for proposals from the Drop-In Centre and Alpha House in Calgary and from Boyle Street Community Services in Edmonton.

“Work is being done by these agencies and others to create proposals and we look forward to reviewing those rapidly once final proposals are received,” Eric Engler, a spokesman in the associate ministry of mental health and addictions, said in a statement.

Overdose prevention sites tend to be more bare-boned than supervised drug-use sites and can operate on a temporary basis.

Engler said the proposals are for “smaller” overdose prevention sites, but he did not provide specifics. He added that the province’s recently tabled budget includes a funding increase for overdose prevention services.

Last May, it became known that the province planned to close Calgary’s downtown supervised consumption site and replace it with two smaller sites at undisclosed locations.

Critics have said the plan to shutter the Safeworks facility will cause harm to existing clients, severing connections between vulnerable Calgarians and trusted health-care providers.

Elliot Tanti, a spokesperson for Boyle Street Community Services in Edmonton, said Monday that he could not speak to anything that has been confirmed but the group is working with the government.

“What I can say is we have identified the south side as an area of need in the city and we feel heard loud and clear from the provincial government on that,” Tanti said.

“It wouldn’t be right for me to comment any further on it until we were in a place where we knew that was going to happen.”

The United Conservative government has come under fire for its handling of the overdose crisis, as Alberta has recorded its deadliest years on record during the pandemic.

About four people are dying daily from drug poisonings.

Some harm reduction advocates and public health experts have said the government needs to do more, especially as it relates to harm reduction services to limit needless deaths.

Tanti said the situation remains critical.

“We need more services across the continuum from recovery straight through to (overdose prevention sites) if we’re going to make meaningful impact on this crisis,” he said.

—Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press