Lethbridge supervised consumption site closes on International Overdose Awareness Day
Lethbridge's supervised consumption site was one of the busiest in North America. Since opening in February 2018, there were close to half a million visits.
LETHBRIDGE -- More than 40 organizations from across Canada and hundreds of people have signed an open letter to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his advisors, urging the province to reverse a decision to close the country's busiest supervised consumption site.
The letter was released Monday, on the final day of operation for the Lethbridge supervised consumption site, which was also International Overdose Awareness Day.
“This will evidently translate in deaths and more tragedies in the community,” said Cecile Kazatchkine, senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
“The impact we’ll see is that people who use drugs, and are accessing these life-saving services, won’t have access to them anymore.”
The government cut funding to ARCHES, the non-profit group operating the SCS, after a financial audit found $1.6 million in public funds couldn’t be accounted for and uncovered other ways funds were inappropriately spent.
In the letter to Kenney, the groups say irrespective of any alleged wrongdoing by ARCHES, substance use is a health issue and continuity of services in Lethbridge should be the priority. “If a hospital CEO was found to have misused funds; it is nonsensical to respond by cutting off all funding and closing the entire hospital," it read.
"Yet that has been the response of your government.”
Since being opened in February of 2018, the Lethbridge location has had an estimated 500,000 visits, by almost 1,700 unique individuals who have accessed services.
Lori Hatfield said the site was instrumental in changing her son’s lifestyle, because he was able to access services immediately.
“In the past we had tried to get help numerous times, and those services weren’t available,” said Hatfield. “Currently he is in recovery in Calgary.”
Hatfield is now a member of Moms Stop the Harm, a network of Canadian families impacted by substance use related harms and deaths.
She said logistically, it doesn’t make sense to replace a supervised consumption site that has 13 injection booths and two inhalation rooms with a mobile truck that only has three booths.
“They can only operate two due to COVID," said Hatfield.
Hatfield and Robert Singer are two of the organizers of a rally being held in Lethbridge on Monday evening.
The event will include a “die-in” in front of city hall, followed by a candlelight vigil walk to the supervised consumption site and back.
Singer said the rally is meant to shed light on overdoses around the world and in southern Alberta.
“Personally I’ve lost friends and family, people I’ve gone to school with," he said.
Singer questions whether the services after Monday will be adequate to meet the demand and prevent deaths in the community.
“How many more funerals do I have to go through, the rest of the community have to go through?" he said.
Alberta’s Associate Minister of Health and Addictions, Jason Luan, issued a statement on International Overdose Awareness Day. According to the statement, “Historic investment in addiction services mean more Albertans will have access to publically funded, life-saving supports focused on long term recovery.”
But the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network said closing the supervised consumption site is at odds with medical and scientific evidence, and goes against the approach taken by the federal government, which maintains harm reduction should be part of a multifaceted approach to the opioid crisis.