January 22nd, 2021

Pop-up site not the solution to city’s opioid crisis

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on October 1, 2020.

The latest quarterly report from the government of Alberta shows a startling increase in overdoses and overdose-related deaths in the City of Lethbridge, and the entire South Zone, over the first six months of 2020.

As of June of this year 36 individuals have died due to overdoses in the South Zone, with 21 of those in the City of Lethbridge. Lethbridge, sadly, is on pace to exceed its previous overdose death high-water mark set in 2018 when 25 people died during the year.

And while Lethbridge statistically represents a drop in the bucket for total overdose deaths in Alberta, (which stands at a shockingly high number of 449 deaths through the first six months of 2020), it is still a tragic situation, and devastating to those who have lost loved ones this year.

Bearing in mind these deaths have occurred despite having supervised consumption services available through ARCHES and the Alberta Health Services through that time period in Lethbridge, the cause of these overdoses, according to the province, is largely due to the impacts of COVID-19. Those dependent on drugs have had difficulty accessing the usual supports they relied on pre-pandemic, and have faced increased stress and anxiety.

Given these alarming statistics, it is perhaps not surprising the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society has tried to intervene in the situation by setting up its pop-up OPS tent downtown in recent nights. But, as mentioned above, it is not the lack of safe consumption services which has led to the current deaths in Lethbridge over the first six months of 2020. Therefore, it is hard to imagine how this unsanctioned pop-up site is going to help, particularly since the tent is constantly under the eye of the police and City bylaw officers, and most in Lethbridge appear to be opposed to its operation. And with the availability of the Alberta Health Services-run mobile OPS already in operation not too far away, the moral argument for its operation on humanitarian grounds seems somewhat dubious as well, particularly when its users are exposed to potential arrest and prosecution should they enter.

The question must be asked: Is this site being set up to truly help those in need? Or are Lethbridge’s most vulnerable being used once again as a political football in an ongoing battle between harm-reduction advocates and those opposed to such services being offered in the community?

Sadly, we have seen such political battles before in our city, and we are no further ahead today than we were in 2018 when the ARCHES SCS first opened its doors in finding any sort of consensus or way forward on the issue of opioids, and overdose-related deaths, in Lethbridge.

We still cannot properly house the estimated 200 vulnerable people we have in our community in need. We do not have enough recovery spaces or mental health supports available to maximize the chance of recovery for individuals seeking treatment for their addictions and trauma. And we are facing a global pandemic which has precipitated failures in the limited current support systems we do have to top it all off.

There are no easy answers to this ongoing drug crisis. No one cause of all our problems we can scapegoat and banish. And without unity and community consensus on what to do going forward, those who are most vulnerable in our midst will continue to fall through cracks and become abstracted numbers on some quarterly report of overdoses and opioid-related deaths.

We as a city can, and must, do better than that.

Comment on this editorial online at https://www.lethbridgeherald.com/


Share this story:

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dennis Bremner

Thank you for the letter. You are correct there is no easy answer to the drug crisis. However, the present system puts the onus of recovery,rehab, and support solely on the community. The many people that go out of there way to assist addicts state et nausieum that not only is it up to the community to assist but its ONLY the community that must assist!
There is no demand put upon the addict. The catering has gotten to the point where we must adjust our system (if you can call it that) to a place and time of the addicts choosing. So if Johnny decides at 2AM on the 3rd of October that he would like to rehab, then the system must not only Jump, but ask how high! If there is no bed at 2AM on the 3rd of October, then its the “system that has failed him”. If at 4AM on the 3rd of October Johnny decides “the system had it chance” and decides to go back to using drugs then “we had our chance and BLEW IT”
If Johnny steals and mugs the residents who must cater too his every needs, well its not his fault because he is a “drug addict”. If Johnny decides to defecate on the front steps of a business, that’s okay because Johnny has a “disease”.
If Johnny freezes to death under a bridge then its the Communities Fault for not being there for Johnny. If Johnny ODs 3 times a day then its not his fault, he is a drug addict. If the EMS does not arrive in time, then its the Communities Fault for not having enough ambulances and staff.
If Johnny does a B&E and kills the homeowner then the argument will be “Johnny has a disease and did not know, nor was aware of what he was doing” and “Johnny tried to reach out for rehab at 2AM on the 3rd of October but ” we failed him”!
If Johnny does rehab, we must be prepared to offer him a job and more permanent housing so he is able to “cope” and if he relapses its because we didn’t give him all the freebees in life that no other human has, and we didn’t do it on “his time” so its the Communities Fault.
We continually insist that Johnny must reach rock bottom before he will rehab, yet set up facilities to ensure he does not reach rock bottom. When he is cold, we find him shelter, when he is hungry, we give him free food. When he is looking for his next hit, we provide him with our property so he can pay for it. When he wishes to experiment with a concoction of drugs, we provide him with a supervised place and if he has heart failure, we bring him back so he can avoid that concoction next time.
Where exactly is rock bottom and how does Johnny reach it when Johnny has no responsibility and has no fear of anything including death? People who are supposed to be professionals then wonder why Johnny isn’t reaching rock bottom! They then make another excuse for him and suggest in their professional wisdom “the new drugs must be very very powerful because he is not reaching rock bottom”!! So lets offer him more help?????
We have a disease…..and its not drugs!

Last edited 3 months ago by Dennis Bremner