Nenshi says it was 'a mistake' to open just one supervised consumption site in Calgary

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he made a mistake in suggesting the city open just one supervised consumption site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre.

Nenshi said when conversations started around supervised consumption in the city, the initial plan was to open a few sites at once.

"I've never loved supervised consumption sites. I've always thought they're an admission of a system that's not working," Nenshi said in an interview with Alberta@Noon. "But I understand they save lives and that's the important part. So I suggested, let's just have one."

The supervised consumption site opened in 2018 as part of a provincial strategy to battle the ongoing opioid crisis.


At the facility, individuals are able to pick up harm reduction supplies — such as new needles — and use their drugs in designated booths under the supervision of a registered nurse trained in overdose response. 

According to information from Alberta Health Services, these sites increase referrals to health services and long-term addiction treatment, while decreasing overdose deaths, public substance use and transmission of disease.

Controversy

But the downtown site has also been controversial — a recent police report showed crime and calls for service in the area have risen since the site opened.

"I suggested, let's have one [site], put it in a big health-care facility where there are lots of wraparound services, and let's study the heck out of it and figure out how it's working, how it's not working," Nenshi said.

"That was my suggestion, and [the province] took the suggestion. This was a mistake."

The Alberta government formed a panel last year to look at the impact of the sites on crime rates, property values and social order. 

Speaking in Calgary on Tuesday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he had viewed a preliminary report from that panel and said it was possible that the province could close or relocate some of those supervised sites.

There are currently seven safe consumption sites in Alberta — in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge — with proposals for one each in Red Deer and Medicine Hat and another one in Calgary.

"As the province is looking at a new model, I think one of the solutions actually should be to have more of them, to spread the problem out a little bit more in the community," Nenshi said. "If the province really wants to move the Chumir site because of specific problems at that site, listen, we can do that."

A report published by the Alberta Community Council on HIV last year found that Alberta's supervised consumption sites have had a 100 per cent success rate at reversing overdoses.