Medically supervised safe injection services are one step closer to becoming reality in Edmonton.
On Tuesday afternoon, city council voted 10-1 in favour of writing a letter of opinion to seek federal exemption to bring the services to Edmonton. The letter is a requirement of the process.
“It’s just simply a letter of opinion,” Mayor Don Iveson said following the special council meeting.
“The decision is federal. The funding decision is provincial.”
Supervised-injection service locations for drug users announced in Edmonton
Fentanyl overdoses killed hundreds of Canadians this year, experts say 2017 could be deadlier
Edmonton Police Service offers conditional support of safe injection sites
The vote came following two days of heated discussion on the topic. Many concerned residents came forward to speak out against the plan to allow four sites in Edmonton to offer supervised safe injection services.
Earlier this year, a survey was conducted with residents and businesses within a four-block radius of three agencies that will be offering the services – Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Street Community Services and the George Spady Society.
READ MORE: Edmonton accelerates plan to offer safe injection services in inner city
While questions were raised about the close proximity of the sites, 74 per cent of the 1,869 respondents agreed with the proposed approach.
The next step for city council will be debate on a motion introduced by the mayor, calling for a coordinated wellness strategy for the inner city.
“There was a motion for the city to continue to be involved in monitoring the effectiveness of these sites, making sure that the practical experience matches all of the evidence that suggests that they should reduce crime, social disorder, and infection rates and overdoses. So we’ll continue to monitor,” Iveson said.
“We’ll continue to be actively involved.”
Medically supervised safe injection services will also be offered at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, but only for patients.
READ MORE: Edmonton MP weighs in on safe injection sites, city councillors fire back
Elaine Hyshka, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta School of Public Health, says the sites will be monitored.
Hyshka added the Edmonton proposal is different from the Insite program on Vancouver’s Lower East Side that has gained national attention due to problems.
“This is very different than Insite,” she said. “This is an embedded model.
“We’re not proposing to build any new bricks and mortar, no store fronts. All we’re doing is adding one additional service to existing agencies that are already serving this population.”
READ MORE: Insite sees 14 drug overdoses in 24 hours
Although at some point, Iveson sees more co-ordination between the agencies that are involved, as well as the provincial ministries that will have a stake in driving costs down for health care and social disorder.
“We’ve heard the need for that. We have so many different players, from police, to Alberta Health Services, to agencies who all have a piece of this, but there isn’t a coherent strategy and I think that gap needs to be filled. I think the city can help fill it, not single-handedly.”
READ MORE: A province-by-province look at opioid-overdose stats, including fentanyl
In the first six weeks of 2017, 51 people in Alberta died from apparent drug overdoses related to fentanyl, according to the most recent information available from Alberta Health. In the same time frame in 2016, 28 died of fentanyl-related overdoses.
In 2016, a total of 349 people died from fentanyl-related overdoses in Alberta.
— With files from Scott Johnston, 630 CHED