By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on October 22, 2020.
Re: Letter from four physicians (Oct. 21 Herald):
I read with interest the letter from four physicians in southern Alberta and I appreciate the discourse. However, our government listened to the voice of 19,000 Albertans regarding their concerns of how supervised consumption services were operating in our province.
These voices led us to audit the ARCHES organization, finding gross financial misconduct. I’m happy to see that these doctors find this disturbing. Following these findings, our government took actions to protect the public from significant financial malfeasance and ended our operating grant with the organization. So that there was no gap in service, the government deployed an overdose prevention site a block away from the previous site. We also hired many of the staff whom the clients are used to working with.
At the same time, we have undertaken a comprehensive approach in Lethbridge – of which the mobile overdose prevention site is one part. We have announced $11 million to build 42 new housing units in Lethbridge, expanded drug treatment courts and funding for ALERT. We also have announced a staggering 125 new long-term treatment beds and more detox spaces in southern Alberta. We are continuing to work with the municipality and key stakeholders on long-term strategies, which includes a longer-term overdose prevention site.
The AHS overdose prevention site has been successful thus far. It has significant capacity to support the community. Nobody has been turned away from the site, and over 265 referrals to treatment or other social services have been made since it opened on Aug. 17.
Most importantly, since the closure of ARCHES on Aug. 31. Lethbridge has experienced a 48-per-cent decrease in opioid-related EMS calls for service over the three months prior to its closure. This decrease is also being experienced on the Blood Tribe First Nation, according to their EMS officials.
I would add that many of the treatment spaces we have funded have been at Indigenous facilities, including Sunrise Healing Lodge, Poundmaker’s Treatment Lodge, the Bringing the Spirit Home Safe Withdrawal Management Site on the Blood Tribe First Nation, in addition to their own Recovery Community announced just a few months ago.
While I thank these four doctors for their letter of opinion, I also want to thank the hundreds of Lethbridge citizens who have written to me expressing their appreciation and support for the way our government is working to address the concerns of the community. Rest assured our government does not intend to divert from the community’s interests.
Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addiction