The current crisis of opioid use
Alberta is facing a substance use-related health crisis. Currently, more Albertans are dying each year from drug overdoses than at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We are losing people at a rate greater than one per day. These numbers are increasing each quarter, and based on the current trend, we expect an even higher number of deaths in 2017 than in 2016.
- In 2016, a total of 559 Albertans died from drug overdoses related to opioids:
- 363 of these deaths were attributed to either fentanyl or carfentanil
- 196 of these deaths were attributed to other opioids
- In the first quarter of 2017, 117 Albertans died from drug overdoses related to fentanyl or carfentanil (as compared to 70 people in the first quarter of 2016). We do not have data on the number of people who died from other opioid overdoses in the first quarter of 2017.
- Across 2016, the South zone (which includes Lethbridge) saw the highest rate of emergency department visits, approximately 24% higher than the provincial average.
Coalition member organizations
The Lethbridge Executive Leaders Coalition on Opioid Use is a group of organizations that began meeting in the fall of 2016 to improve the coordination of services to respond effectively to the opioid crisis and explore the feasibility of implementing Supervised Consumption Services.
The goal of this group is to collaborate on a coordinated community approach to effectively address the growing issue of opioid abuse in Lethbridge. This comprehensive strategy includes Prevention, Early Intervention, Harm Reduction, Treatment and Rehabilitation.
Because of the present epidemic of deaths from opioid-related overdoses, much of the coalition’s initial focus has been on enhancing our local approaches to Harm Reduction.
The coalition includes representatives from:
- Alberta Health Services
- Alberta Children’s Services
- Alberta Justice and Solicitor General
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- City of Lethbridge
- Holy Spirit Catholic Schools
- Lethbridge College
- Downtown Lethbridge BRZ
- Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services
- Lethbridge Police Service
- Lethbridge Public Library
- Lethbridge School District #51
- Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Centre
- Social Housing In Action
- University of Lethbridge
The coalition is focused on ensuring access to the full spectrum of evidence-based health care practices for people who use drugs. This benefits substance users as well as the community.
What the Coalition is doing to respond to the opioid crisis
After completing a community needs assessment and studying community addiction strategies worldwide, the Lethbridge Executive Leaders Coalition on Opioid Use has determined that Supervised Consumption Services would be an effective intervention model to reduce harm from drug use and help save lives.
With the full support of the Coalition, ARCHES is preparing an application to Health Canada to establish Supervised Consumption Services in Lethbridge and plans to submit its application by July 31, 2017.
A list of potential sites is being developed and is expected to be narrowed down through the application process.
Stakeholder Sessions during June 2017
Prior to submitting this application, the Coalition is hosting focused stakeholder information sessions throughout June, 2017 with law enforcement, emergency medical responders, corrections, and others.
Community Discussion Sessions during July 2017 T
he Coalition will host a series of community discussion sessions in July, 2017. A total of nine Community Discussion Sessions will be held to provide information and answer questions from Lethbridge residents. Because spaces will be limited to a maximum of 20 attendees for each session, anyone wishing to attend a session must register in advance by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org Schedule for Community Discussion Sessions:
- Tuesday, July 4, 6-8 p.m. at Crossings Library Branch
- Wednesday, July 5, 1-3 p.m. at Lethbridge College (Sunflower Room)
- Thursday, July 6, 9-11 a.m. at Alberta Health Services (Lethbridge Centre)
- Monday, July 10, 9-11 a.m. at City Hall (Culver Room)
- Wednesday, July 12, 6-8 p.m. at Boys & Girls Club, 1405-8 Avenue N.
- Thursday, July 13, 1-3 p.m. at Alberta Health Services (Lethbridge Centre)
- Monday, July 17, 1-3 p.m. at Crossings Library Branch
- Wednesday, July 19, 9-11 a.m. at Lethbridge College (Sunflower Room)
- Thursday, July 20, 6-8 p.m. at Alberta Health Services (Lethridge Centre)
Community questions or comments can also be emailed to: email@example.com
What are Supervised Consumption Services?
Supervised Consumption Services provide a safe, clean space for people who use drugs to do so under the supervision of health care professionals without the fear of arrest or accidental overdose. Access to support services such as counselling, education, and treatment for drug addictions is also provided.
Here’s a snapshot of what Supervised Consumption Services are and how they benefit communities: http://www.fraserhealth.ca/media/20170130_Supervised_Consumption_Services.pdf
Supervised Consumption Services are part of a range of evidence-based interventions that include prevention, harm reduction and treatment for members of our community living with substance use challenges.
Benefits of Supervised Consumption Services:
- Fewer overdoes deaths
- Fewer discarded needles in public places
- Less public drug use
- Less transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C from better access to clean needles
- Increased use of detox and addiction treatment services resulting in improved health outcomes
- Reduced petty crime in the vicinity of the Supervised Consumption Services facility
Supervised Consumption Services help save lives and foster safer communities.
Along with offering needle exchange, naloxone, and access to opioid dependency treatment, Supervised Consumption Services help reduce harms from substance abuse such as HIV, Hepatitis C, bacterial infections and overdose deaths. Supervised Consumption Services have proven to save lives while being cost effective, and foster a safer environment for people who use drugs as well as for the general public.
For the past 30 years, Supervised Consumption Services (SCS) have been part of a wider range of harm reduction programs in many places across the globe, including Canada.
Supervised Consumption Services reflect a growing understanding by both policy makers and the public that drug use is not a moral failing, but rather a public health issue that needs to be addressed through evidence-based health and social interventions.
What is Harm Reduction?
The term Harm Reduction refers to policies, programs, and practices that aim to reduce the harms and death associated with drug use. Harm Reduction approaches are based on evidence and science, are rooted in compassion and justice, and seek to reduce stigma and discrimination.
Harm Reduction uses non-judgmental, strength-based services that provide skills, knowledge, resources, and supports for people involved in high-risk behaviours to live safer and healthier lives.
Harm Reduction is one component in a range of healthcare services and is implemented most effectively alongside as well as within other approaches including Prevention, Early Intervention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation. Harm Reduction services enable people who are often isolated by their addiction to be accepted “where they are at” and provided non-judgmental services appropriate to their state of readiness. Harm reduction includes stopping drug use. Harm Reduction services will frequently act as an entry point to services, providing an individual with access to further supports that they may not have otherwise connected with.
Harm Reduction is highly effective in reaching vulnerable and marginalized populations, and reaching community members who may not access traditional healthcare systems. Data on the provincial naloxone program supports the effectiveness of Harm Reduction agencies in improving access to care for these populations.
Although Harm Reduction agencies make up only 8 of the 1,095 (0.7%) provincial sites that are registered to distribute naloxone kits, they have collectively distributed 35% of the Naloxone kits in Alberta since January 2016.