A controversial proposal to allow Edmonton drug users to have access to supervised-injection services is facing more tough questions the day after the locations of the proposed sites were revealed.
“There wasn’t any community consultation about this prior, at least not with the impacted community – the neighbourhoods where these sites will be located,” Cris Basualdo, a community advocate for central Edmonton neighbourhoods, said on Thursday.
Pending Ottawa’s approval of the provincial plan, the services will all be integrated into central Edmonton locations: Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Street Community Services and George Spady Society and be offered to patients at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
“It is where the people and the citizens that would use the service already exist,” Shelley Williams with Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton said Wednesday.
It’s exactly that concentration of services in the city’s core and the justification for it that has some people concerned.
“They are concentrating further services into neighbourhoods that are already distressed and that’s correlated to the existing concentration of services,” Basualdo said. “Broader city plans are to encourage housing for homeless and vulnerable populations citywide, to encourage services to be dispersed citywide, yet we’re going back to a situation where we are concentrating further services. I think it will be a death knell for the neighbourhood.”
Keitha Cote is a morphine user from Saskatchewan who has lived in central Edmonton for about six months. She didn’t comment about the proposed locations of the supervised-injection services but said she believes they will help address the growing drug use problem in the city.
“They consume drugs openly and it’s something that they don’t give a rip about,” she said. “I think it would be really, really handy because there’s a lot of people that are going under on fentanyl.”
Coun. Scott McKeen acknowledged the concerns about concentrating services in the core but said he didn’t believe the locations would require zoning hearings because health care is under the province’s jurisdiction and the locations cited already provide health care services. However, he added he believed research shows the locations that have been proposed are where the services are needed most.
“Their argument is that these facilities – even though there’s three in that area – I think it stretches across two actual neighbourhoods, but that’s where the need is and what’s known about this community is they’re not going to hop on a bus, they’re not going to take a cab, they probably don’t have their own car, so it has to be localized.”
Petra Schulz has been an outspoken advocate for more action to be taken on opioids after losing her son to addiction. She believes the proposed locations for supervised-injections services don’t acknowledge how widespread the opioid crisis really is.
“It’s a societal problem,” she said. “It’s not an inner-city problem or a suburb problem; it’s a problem that reaches every facet of our society in every community.”
Schulz added the emphasis on supervised injection ignores the reality that many opioid users do not use the drugs intraveneously. She also expressed concern that designating a limited number of sites for the services will keep some drug users away because they don’t want to face the stigma of walking into a building where everyone knows why you’re going there. She said stigma is what leads to private drug use, which leads to overdoses.
“If this is a necessary health service, why are we only providing it in a certain area and why are we forcing people who need that service to go to that area?” Basualdo asked. “They are just going to ram it down the throats of a community that really doesn’t have the voice to compete with the people that are the proponents of these types of projects.”
McKeen suggested, at the end of the day, he believes the supervised-injections services are a necessary step to address the opioid crisis.
“I’m unwilling to accept the fatalities we’re getting as acceptable losses. They’re not acceptable losses and we can do better.”
However, McKeen added he believes a more comprehensive approach is needed to address the lifestyle that comes with drug use.
“I heard an expert on this talk about heroin as being less toxic on the body than alcohol, so it’s lifestyle,” he said.
“We see them look like almost walking zombies or something, the walking dead, but that’s the lifestyle that’s killing them… They’re being kicked out of every possible corner of our community because we treat them that way.
“If we understand that this is the result often of mental illness or life trauma, then we can, I think, open our hearts and say there shouldn’t be a criminal justice response, it should be a health care response,” McKeen said, adding that mitigating the negative effects of drug users’ lifestyles may require supportive housing facilities with managed opioid use.
“I’ve been on the methadone, I’ve been on morphine… it’s all in the mind,” Cote said. “Really, they (drug users) have to make that choice whether to quit or not. No one else can force them to do it. It’s up to them.
“I know from being there and doing it… it’s all in the mind and it’s up to you to quit.” (KLM, TD, with files from Global News)