Province appoints expert panel, outlines plans for supervised consumption site review
The Alberta government is moving ahead with its promised review of supervised drug consumption sites.
Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health & Addictions, announced the details of the review and the members of the review committee Monday morning at McDougall Centre.
“As we committed in our platform, we are moving ahead with a review of supervised consumption sites," said Luan in a statement released Monday morning. "We’ve heard Albertans’ concerns about impacts on their homes, businesses and communities. We’ve chosen a panel of experts to listen to Albertans, review the evidence, and report back on their findings.”
The eight members of the committee include:
- Chairman Rod Knecht, former Chief of Edmonton Police Service
- Professor Geri Iininaatoáákii Bemister-Williams (vice-chair)
- Dr. Charl Els, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist
- Joan Hollihan, a mother who lost her son to opioid abuse
- Dr. Rob Tanguay, a psychiatrist and pain medication specialist
- Dr. Ray Baker, expert on addiction, medication and recovery-oriented care,
- Economist Paul Maxim
- Steve Comack, business leader
"We have appointed a committee of experts who bring a diverse knowledge in business, economics, real estate, law enforcement, justice, substance use, addictions, mental health, sociology, trauma and First Nations experiences," said Luan.
Town halls will be hosted in Calgary, Lethbridge, Edmonton and Grande Prairie (the four cities with existing supervised consumption sites), as well as Red Deer and Medicine Hat (proposed locations of future consumption sites) during a three-week period in September.
In addition to the town halls, Albertans are encouraged to provide feedback to the province online at Supervised Consumption Service Review.
Premier Jason Kenney says the purpose of the review is to examine the impact of supervised consumption sites on communities to determine whether or not they should be relocated.
The expert panel is expected to focus on several topics including:
- Crime rates
- Needle debris
- Social disorder complaints
- Property values
- EMS calls
- Business impacts
- Treatment referrals
- Overdose reversals
The safe injection site at the Sheldon Chumir Centre in Calgary and ‘ARCHES’ in Lethbridge were both established by the previous NDP government to stem the opioid crisis.
Kenney notes that the Sheldon Chumir site in particular has seen a large spike in crime in the surrounding area.
Calgary police report 50 per cent more drug-related calls in 2019 than the three-year average.
Neighbouring businesses in the area have complained that the centre has attracted drug dealers and vandals who have damaged their properties.
Four other sites in Edmonton and one site in Grande Prairie will also be reviewed.
Elliott Tanti, spokesperson for three of the Edmonton-area consumption sites, embraces the review. “Supervised Consumption Services sites in Edmonton welcome, and look forward to, a provincial government review of their outcomes and impacts," said Tanti in a statement to CTV. "We are confident that a review will reveal the success and value of these services to the City of Edmonton, as the evidence for the sites having a positive socioeconomic impact on the surrounding community has been strong."
In June, the United Conservative Party announced that funding for proposed supervised consumption facilities in Edmonton, Calgary and Medicine Hat will be put on hold while the review takes place.
Although, not everyone is on board with the review process.
NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley accused Kenney of turning his back on vulnerable Albertans, noting that supervised consumption sites have prevented an estimated 2,400 overdose deaths in the province.
The UCP and Luan have promised the current supervised consumption facilities would not see any changes during the review process.
At the same time, Luan said the purpose of the review was also to see if the province had been delivering services appropriately.
Luan previously tweeted, and deleted, commentary questioning whether research into supervised consumption sites was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Amid criticism, a spokesperson said Luan was committed to the review.