New data from Alberta Health shows Red Deer, Alta., has the second-highest rate of fentanyl-related deaths in the province, and frontline workers say a supervised consumption site can't come quickly enough to prevent more fatal overdoses in the city in 2018.
Alberta Health's Opioids and Substances of Misuse Alberta Report for the fourth quarter of 2017 shows 687 people died in the province last year from opioid overdoses.
While most of the deaths took place in Edmonton and Calgary, by population, Grand Prairie and Red Deer take first and second place when it comes to the rate of fentanyl-related fatalities.
"If the start of 2018 is any indicator we're still on an upward trend," said Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point, an organization that works with people with addictions in Red Deer and is pressing for a supervised consumption site for the city.
"We've lost 11 folks so far this year that we know of here at Turning Point," she said. "I can't imagine what the death toll would be like without naloxone available. We just did a reversal here yesterday and it's happening every day on our streets, in people's homes."
"Our community has now lost countless citizens and we have a simple solution here ready to go," said Carmichael, referring to her organization's plans for a safe consumption site.
Turning Point has a federal exemption application in the works, allowing it to let people use drugs under supervision. But the City of Red Deer prefers the idea of a mobile site rather than a facility at the Turning Point offices in the city's downtown.
Keira Vandervliet, who is in recovery and now helps others through Turning Point, says it's a frustrating wait for a safe place for people with addiction to consume opioids.
"The majority of our clients say they'd use a supervised consumption site. I'm really looking forward to the day that it's available," said Vandervliet.
"We have the government of Alberta referring to this as a health crisis. But were we to have the death toll that we've had for any other crisis, we would have had an immediate response and what we've had has been lacking," Vandervliet added.
Red Deer is still divided on exactly where a safe consumption site should go and any facility is still several months away with various procedural hurdles to clear before becoming a reality.
"Certainly the numbers we've seen from Alberta Health highlight the national crisis communities across the country are faced with," said Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer.
"It highlights why we continue to prepare both our community response and for the provincial government to respond to what is a national health crisis," she said.
Veer says the city expects the licensing and regulatory components for a mobile consumption unit to come together imminently. Then a local agency or organization like Turning Point would need to get a federal exemption and then go through more community consultation, which all takes time.
"From a city perspective, we're doing everything we can to be prepared in the likelihood that will occur," said Veer.
- MORE ALBERTA NEWS | Allegations of inappropriate behaviour, harassment at Calgary homeless shelter date back more than a decade
- MORE ALBERTA NEWS | Edmonton man charged with 1996 murder of Calgary roommate