June 19th, 2024

Downtown, N. Railway areas most likely candidates for city’s safe consumption

By Gillian Slade on June 30, 2018.


gslade@medicinehatnews.com 
@MHNGillianSlade

A site has not been determined yet for supervised consumption but those planning it say downtown is probably the most appropriate.

“The areas that we are looking at in terms of the data are the downtown area and North Railway areas,” said Leslie Hill, executive director HIV Community Link in Calgary.

To gain an understanding of concerns of residents and businesses, HIV Community Link has been holding stakeholder meetings in Medicine Hat this week, with more planned in the coming weeks.

“We certainly have heard from some stakeholders that it’s better for us to be in the business sector than in the residential sector …. Those are the things we are taking into consideration,” said Hill. “We’re going to do all the planning that we possibly can, and as we go we are also going to learn and make adjustments.”

Dr. David Marsh attended a meeting and says he now realizes he was previously uninformed on the issue.

“I wondered why they were spending a million dollars in this area for an illicit activity,” said Marsh. “When you understand a little more of what they’re trying to do, they’re actually trying to save lives.”

It is a long process for those with an addiction but they deserve attention, said Marsh.

HIV Community Link in Calgary received a startup grant of $900,000 from Alberta Health to start a safe consumption site here.

Based on research done last summer, the site needs to be less than a kilometre from where those who will use the facility tend to frequent.

Being near the residential detoxification unit was considered but was deemed too far away, said Hill.

The site building needs to be large enough to provide services such as HIV testing, addiction counselling, assessment for housing and be accessible to methadone replacement therapy, said Hill. These onsite services are designed to meet peoples’ needs at whatever stage they are at, and respond promptly.

The goal is to have a site open by the end of the year, said Hill.

“The evidence around this service is that it tends to have a positive net benefit for the community,” said Hill.

Residents are more often finding used needles in parks and noticing public drug consumption, and another goal of the site is to address this.

“We know if people are using a space that is clean, safe, hygienic and they have a place to properly discard their equipment, they are less likely to use a public park,” said Hill.

Marsh has a better understanding now of what the plan is for the site, how it will be accomplished and how it will operate, including a plan to monitor the area.

Concerns have been expressed that a safe consumption site is about accommodating someone’s addiction.

“The services really are about serving some of the most vulnerable people in our community and giving them a point of access to health-care services. It gives us an opportunity to build trusting relationships with people … meeting with our nurses, our social workers, talking about their needs and then helping them to create change,” said Hill.

The goal is to prevent overdose and overdose deaths, help people access the services they’re ready to access by building a trusting, nonjudgmental relationship, she explained.

Funding to operate the facility would come from Alberta Health. The annual budget depends on a number of factors still being determined.

A safe consumption site does not supply any illicit drugs. The user brings their own drugs to the site so if an unintended overdose occurs, medical staff can administer an antidote.

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