LETHBRIDGE - Visits to ARCHES since it opened February 28, now total nearly 65,000, outpacing both Calgary and Edmonton.
That number and many others were presented at Monday's Community Issues Committee meeting at City Hall.
The purpose of the meeting was for members of the Executive Leaders Coalition on the Opioid Crisis to meet and present the effects of the drug crisis, the services they offer, and gaps in services in the community.
It is part of a three-phase approach the City is taking to try and address the drug crisis and public outcry that has been occurring since the beginning of the year.
Supervised Consumption Site statistics
Jill Manning, ARCHES Managing Director, says that drug use is increasing across North America, not just in Lethbridge, and there needs to be more support services in place to help those who seek it out.
As of Sept. 18, there have been 64,730 visits to the supervised consumption site (SCS). There are an average of 460 uses each day.
There are 848 unique, registered users of the facility, and since it opened, there have been 619 medical emergencies including overdoses, and other health-related incidents like heart and respiratory issues and infections. There are another 300 clients who access other ARCHES programming, including housing, queer health, HIV/HCV programming and peer-based supports.
Of the 619 emergencies, 468 have been handled by ARCHES' registered nurses, rather than calling EMS. (*this number does not include the number of overdose/possible overdose calls Fire/EMS also respond to*)
Average needle distribution from June to September 2017 was 27,419, while average needle distribution during the same time period in 2018 was 16,504.
Manning says more needles are now being returned or picked up in the community; anywhere from 85 to 110 per cent each month. There are several other facilities in the city that where clients can also buy or receive needles as well that may be returned to the site and disposed of.
"There is a perception the community that we're at the height of the needle debris crisis. That's not factual according to our data and our statistics and what we know about how many needles we're distributing, how many needles we're picking up."
Her belief is that because the drug crisis is at a boiling point in the community in general, that the issue is being blown out of proportion on social media every time someone finds a needle.
While Manning made her presentation, she also stressed that harm reduction is only one of the four pillars of drug addiction treatment. The others include enforcement, rehabilitation, and education and prevention.
"From a community perspective, it's hard to understand. And from a service provider perspective, it can be a little bit frustrating because it's really no different than in the health care community... so what we need is, we need to have greater resources invested into the areas where we need them sorely right now."
Those include treatment, detox and recovery services, along with potentially providing medical grade hydromorphone in a controlled environment to the addict, rather than accessing and using street level drugs.
Manning also believes that Lethbridge has been disproportionately affected by the drug crisis; more so than Calgary and Edmonton.
"However, I think that we need to not just take that face value and assume the worst because we do have a number of things that are really great and going for us in Lethbridge."
Those include supervised consumption services which don't exist inside of a traditional clinic or hospital, making it more accessible or barrier free for those who want to use it and for those who subsequently ask for help with their addiction.
"Also, we have to recognize that ARCHES, which hosts the supervised consumption facility, has been in our community for many, many years - for decades, and that we've established a harm reduction-based relationship with our population that is based on the things of non-judgement and on non-stigmatization and acceptance and of meeting people where they're at."
Who operates, runs and funds the SCS?
During the meeting, Councillor Ryan Parker said he wanted to clear up some jurisdictional issues once and for all.
"Who is responsible for making the final decision to say the safe injection/ consumption site was the proper decision? Who makes that decision? And who makes the decision on how it should be changed in operation? Because City Council, we're really in charge of roads, ice rinks...transit and all the fuzzy stuff.... but who makes the decision to say you know what? In a year, after review, this is the consequences, both positive and negative, of the decision that was made?"
CIC Chair Jeff Carlson asked one of the presenters to weigh in.
"So, the application for supervised consumption services goes to the Federal Government," explained Manning. "So, our policy and procedure and to ensure all of that is being adhered to is through the Federal Government. And then our funding is through the Provincial Government because our health care dollars are provincially mandated."
Manning also told Parker that they are currently leasing the building the SCS is housed in, from a community member/business person.
"How did the city end up being the person, the focal point, of all the concerns, all the questions? Is it AHS's responsibility to answer all these questions that we get from the community," Parker asked. "Or is it City Hall's? Because I need to know that."
City Manger Bramwell Strain told Parker it was a complex issue, but if a review of the SCS was necessary, it was something they could talk to the province and the federal government about.
"I think if you're asking why the bulk of the questions get brought down to the city level, it's because we're local government. We're out on the street...I don't think the jurisdictional issues are well known by the community."
Manning also explained that there is a distinction between Alberta Health, and Alberta Health Services. While ARCHES has partnerships with AHS, they are not affiliated with them. However, Alberta Health is the body that mandates their funding.
Parker also asked whether City Council could write a resolution to shut down the SCS.
"The reason I ask is because we got the stakeholders in the room, and they're getting the same questions, the people in the audience, and the people who report it. Because I'm tired of people calling up going, I wish city council would just shut it down. I want to know what I can and can not do."
City Manager Bramwell Strain explained that council could certainly write a resolution and pass it to that effect, however, it is not in the city's jurisdiction to close the site down.
"Thank you,” said Carlson. “That was the previous response from our city solicitor that you can pass whatever resolution you want, but it is likely unenforceable."
Manning says ARCHES takes pride in the fact that there is a place in the community now, where the drug-taking population can go and feel like they belong.
"Additionally, we've received so much great feedback from family members, of people who the families recognize that if they hadn't been accessing supervised consumption services, that they would not have accessed then detox or treatment."
Supervised consumption sites are also currently being planned for Medicine Hat, Cardston, Grande Prairie, Ponoka, High Prairie and Fort McMurray.
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