CALGARY -- Supervised consumption sites (SCS) can save the provincial health care system millions of dollars, suggests a new report by a University of Calgary assistant professor.

Using publicly available data over a three-year period — 2017 to 2020 — nursing assistant professor Dr. Jennifer Jackson analyzed the cost-benefit of managing overdoses through SCS versus treatment by EMS.

That found that each overdose managed by SCS saves about $1,600, which equates to more than $2.3 million since the sites opened.

“This study was about what saves money for Alberta health care,” said Jackson, who is also a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine.

"And the take-away is that, yes, SCS save money, free up ambulances, and decrease the number of people using emergency rooms.”  

The province released a report into supervised consumption sites earlier this year, but Jackson says that document focused on community impact and not cost analysis.  

“We chose to look at overdose management, preventions of overdose related deaths and the associated cost impacts for Alberta Health,” she said.

"SCS are widely accepted as decreasing fatal accidental overdoses. When people overdose at the SCS, the staff currently manage 98 per cent of these at their site, which translates to 700 people a year that don’t need ambulance or emergency management.” 

Jackson and project consultants from the Centre for Health Informatics at CSM defined an overdose as the application of a medical intervention to a client who is not rousable. This includes administration of oxygen or naloxone or calling EMS.

According to numbers released earlier this year, staff at the Safeworks Harm Reduction Program site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in Calgary's Beltline have responded to 1,545 overdoses since it first opened in October 2017. The Safeworks site had 1,270 unique visits in January and the location has been visited more than 130,000 times since it opened its doors.

There are seven SCS operating in Alberta, according to the provincial report — four in Edmonton, one in Calgary, one in  Lethbridge, and one in Grande Prairie. A potential location has been identified in Medicine Hat, however funding for that project was frozen in 2018. And there is an overdose prevention site (OPS) in Red Deer, which does not provide additional access to health and social supports.