June 22nd, 2024

Library Chat: Listening and learning

By Medicine Hat News on July 20, 2018.

I represent the library on the Medicine Hat Coalition for Supervised Consumption which is working with HIV Community Link as they plan a supervised consumption service for Medicine Hat. At the risk of wandering from my proper subject (the library) I would like to share what I have learned.

The service is a response to the opioid overdose epidemic which is killing more Albertans than traffic accidents and homicides put together. It will be a monitored location where people who use drugs can reduce their risk of death when using their drugs. It will also connect users with other supports and services, help our most vulnerable citizens build trusting relationships with health-care providers, and provide opportunities to quit.

If you consider such services morally questionable, remember that the service will save lives. It is not there to condone or encourage drug use. It will not provide drugs. It will not replace or prevent law enforcement and prevention efforts. It simply acknowledges that drug use already exists in the community, and that many people are not in a position to be able to reduce or end their use. The service will be a last line of defence to reduce fatalities among people who are at risk of overdose and overdose death. Many agencies and professional organizations support these service because evidence shows they work.

The service will benefit the whole community, not just people who use drugs. A well implemented site reduces the incidence of publicly discarded drug equipment, public drug use and other nuisances. Drug use on site is drug use that doesn’t happen in a park or public washroom. The site will prevent HIV, hepatitis and other disease transmission that can cost millions of dollars to treat. It is worth noting that the site will also contribute to Medicine Hat’s economy, bringing many new jobs and revenue into the city.

I have heard people’s concerns. Many people understand the crisis and see the general benefits of the site but don’t want their local neighbourhood impacted. The site does have to go somewhere if we are to save those lives, but residents and businesses next door shouldn’t have to suffer.

What if the site was planned and implemented so well that it actually improved its neighbourhood? It’s an ambitious goal but I think it is possible, and so do the people planning the service. What if workers or volunteers kept local streets cleaner than they were before? What if local police patrols enforced zero tolerance for drug dealing and petty crime? What if staff listened and responded to local concerns?

If I was giving my input, that’s what I would ask for. What would make the site acceptable to you? The people planning the service want to know. They have held public meetings at the library and elsewhere and listened to citizens and they are not finished doing so. You can contact them at supervisedconsumption@hivcl.org and help them build a service that protects both human lives and neighbourhoods.

Ken Feser is chief librarian at the Medicine Hat Public Library.

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