Pubdate: Thu, 23 Feb 2017
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Karen Grimsrud
Page: 8


Re. "Support services key to safe injection sites," Opinion, Feb.

The rising number of Albertans dying from opioid overdoses is a
significant public health crisis that is not going away soon.

Working with a wide range of partners, including law enforcement, we
have taken a number of steps to help address this challenge. These
steps include immediate actions to help decrease the number of persons
dying from overdoses along with longer-term approaches that address
mental health and addictions.

It is now widely accepted that previous approaches to addictions that
focus solely on modifying individual behaviour were not effective at
eliminating the risks associated with drug use. Instead, we need a
comprehensive approach that includes prevention, treatment,
enforcement, harm reduction, and monitoring.

Supervised consumption services are one part of a range of
evidence-based services that support prevention, harm reduction and
treatment for individuals living with substance use challenges.

These services provide a hygienic environment where individuals are
able to use drugs under the supervision of trained staff.
International research has found that these supervised consumption
services can have tremendous benefits, both to individuals and
communities, including:

* Reducing overdose deaths; * Reducing the spread of communicable
disease; * Increasing use of addiction treatment services; *
Connecting people who use drugs with other health, social and
treatment services; * Reducing drug use in public places and; *
Reducing discarded needles in the community.

Evidence also shows that supervised consumption services are cost
effective, do not attract more people who use drugs into the
community, and do not contribute to more crime.

Supervised consumption services are not immediately available in
Alberta because providing legally sanctioned services requires an
exemption under Section 56 of the federal Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act.

Even when exemptions are received, supervised consumption services
will not, on their own, eliminate the risk and impacts of drug use.
They are, however, an important addition to a broader, comprehensive
drug strategy - a pragmatic approach that minimizes the harm of drug
use while recognizing the fact that many people who use drugs are
unwilling or unable to stop using them.

In Alberta, it will be important to ensure there is a fulsome
consultation process during the development and implementation of
these services, and there will need to be a comprehensive evaluation

I agree with Edmonton Police Service Chief Rod Knecht that supervised
consumption services should have 'wraparound' services available.
Given the rising number of opioid-related deaths, we must move quickly
to save as many lives as possible.

Alberta is facing a public health crisis that is complex and rooted in
a multitude of social determinants of health. Our response, therefore,
also needs to be multi-faceted and include a variety of interventions
- - including well-planned supervised consumption services - all based
on the recognition that a harm reduction approach is our most
effective tool for preventing further overdose deaths and addressing
problem substance use in our society over the long term.

Karen Grimsrud

(Dr. Karen Grimsrud is chief medical officer of health for Alberta Health.)
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