Content Notice: Opioid addiciton.
Alberta, as with many places in the United States, is in the midst of an opioid crisis, with a particular cocktail called fentanyl (10x more powerful than heroin, 100x more powerful than morphine) and it’s sadistic cousin carfentanyl (like fentanyl but somehow even worse) making the rounds, especially among vulnerable populations. It’s been clear to the evidence-based policy crowd that the best way to intercept the casualties in this crisis is to treat the issue as one of public health rather than of public crime, building relationships between addicts and health services instead of making them afraid to seek out help. Decriminalization of possession is a vital step. Officially, possession is still on the books in most municipalities as well as the Criminal Code of Canada, and we are in the precarious position of asking police to exercise discretion when dealing with addicts.
However, Alberta is taking a few steps towards harm reduction, a series of policies designed to simply keep addicts alive long enough for them to access help. Edmonton announced several safe injection sites integrated in existing emergency housing and hospital services.
The supervised-injection locations would offer individuals a list of resources:
- Sterile injection supplies
- Education on safer injection, overdose prevention and intervention
- Medical and counselling services
- Referrals to drug treatment, housing, income support and other services
- Attention to medical needs that require an immediate response.
The services would also be intended to be an entry point for users to receive further social supports, primary health care and treatment.
Each location would be staffed with a nurse, social worker/addiction worker and peer support worker.
While the police chief has the right attitude…
“I think the big issue is the unmet care issues – the people that are mentally ill that are homeless that are addicted and they need help,” Knecht added. “I think if we can get them to a place where they have a safe warm bed at night, some meals, proper medication – they will become productive members of the community.”
I’m glad Alberta’s health and social services are stepping up, but we ought to be decriminalizing possession, too. Still, this is an important step to reducing the fatalities, and for once our provincial government isn’t cutting the essential services to try and give a helping hand here.