June 21st, 2024

‘It’s a public health crisis’ Health minister urges need for safe consumption sites; agrees more can be done for other patients

By Gillian Slade on August 3, 2018.


Supervised consumption sites are saving hundreds of lives but help is also needed to cover the expenses incurred by those with Type 1 Diabetes, says the Minister of Health.

“To a parent who has lost a child to overdose, or a child who has lost a parent to overdose, this is something that is immediate and life saving, and we can’t turn our back on those patients either,” Sarah Hoffman told the News Thursday.

In Lethbridge, a supervised consumption site opened early this year.

“In the first six months, they were able to save more than 300 lives — 319 was the number I was given most recently that would have been lost to overdose,” she said. “But they were able to reverse those because of the supervised consumption services.”

The life of someone with Type 1 Diabetes is also at risk if they do not do adequate testing of their blood levels and inject the required amount of insulin. It costs roughly $130 a month for supplies for testing and needles.

At a supervised consumption site the needles are provided without charge.

Emily Johnson, Alberta provincial advocacy lead for Diabetes Canada, has been advocating for these supplies to be made freely available by Alberta Health.

Hoffman says this is on her mind and she is looking at expanding the supports and services that they need.

“Definitely we are always looking at ways we can improve and support public health care in Alberta,” said Hoffman.

The decision to provide supervised consumption sites, including one scheduled to open in Medicine Hat by Christmas, before added services for diabetics is not a case of prioritizing, said Hoffman.

“I wouldn’t say it is prioritizing but we are in a situation … When we look at the numbers of deaths caused by overdose — and fentanyl in particular — it’s a public health crisis and we have to respond.”

Hoffman says providing funds to support supervised consumption sites has proven to save lives.

HIV Community Link Calgary was given a $900,000 grant from Alberta Health for start-up costs for the site in Medicine Hat. Alberta Health will also cover operating costs.

Hoffman has promised to provide cost details to the News but these figures were not available before press time.

She was unable to provide a possible timeline for added support for diabetics, but cited the hospital’s new ambulatory care wing for reducing the need to travel to larger centres like Calgary for medical treatment.

“We are working to protect and improve health care in a number of areas … there is more to be done, not less,” said Hoffman.

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