CALGARY — The police chief in Alberta's most populous city has painted a bleak picture of efforts to fight opioid use and is pushing for safe consumption sites where drug users could get help.
Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin told justice studies students at Bow Valley College that fentanyl seizures in the city last year were up 675 per cent over the five-year average and methamphetamine use was up 273 per cent.
The increase in drug use has led to skyrocketing numbers of stolen vehicles and a hefty increase in break-ins, said the police chief, who added the best solution is to deal with social issues.
"We can't hire more police and we can't arrest our way through our addiction problems," Chaffin said Wednesday.
One solution, although controversial, would be legal consumption sites where health professionals could oversee the use of drugs and the safety of users, he said.
"What we're suggesting here is for those people who are struggling with the influence of dangerous drugs ... is a place you can go in the city where you can consume those drugs in a way that you can be medically monitored."
The Alberta government has doled out just over $700,000 in grants for communities with existing needle exchange programs to assess the need for safe opioid consumption sites.
Opioids such as fentanyl lead to three or four deaths in Alberta every day, Chaffin noted.
Supervised facilities for drug users should be part of a larger strategy to lower addiction rates and address problems that accompany drug dependency, such as crime and joblessness, he suggested.
He said such sites would be different than those operating in Vancouver.
"People imagine the Vancouver setting ... hypodermic needles laying on the ground and drug dealers hanging out in the area. The Calgary environment (would be) different ... not an entrenched addict community ... more (of) a clinical setting."
Chaffin envisions safe consumption sites as a way for addicts to make contact with professionals, including police, which could eventually lead to treatment.
But he realizes it's unlikely that users would make much effort to come to a new facility instead of consuming drugs on the street because it's convenient.
"If you're asking an addict by themselves to think that way, to function that way to make safe, sober decisions for themselves, that's a pipe dream."
Chaffin said another hurdle is where consumption sites would be located.
"I was in a session last night ... (and) I said who wants this in their backyard? And of course nobody put their hands up."
Chaffin said talks are underway with the city of Calgary and Alberta Health Services.
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press