February 22nd, 2020

ARCHES is more than a consumption site

By Kuhl, Nick on August 19, 2019.

Herald photo by Ian Martens
Drug-use supplies, including sterile water, cookers and tourniquets, sit on a counter in the consumption room at Lethbridges supervised consumption site. @IMartensHerald

Nick Kuhl

Lethbridge Herald


About 57 per cent of the drugs being used at the Supervised Consumption Site are opioids. Methamphetamine is about 42 per cent and one per cent are others.

There’s many other numbers as well.

But myths and misinformation are still a daily occurrence says Stacey Bourque, Executive Director of ARCHES Lethbridge. One certainty, she said, is the drug crisis continues to worsen in Lethbridge as well as communities across Alberta and Canada.

“However, we are seeing some positive change through the interventions that currently exist. Needle distribution is down 70 per cent, return rates are up 83 per cent, hundreds of people have been referred to treatment, over 400 lives have been saved, and crime increases have slowed,” Bourque said in a recent wide-ranging email interview with The Herald.

“However, we still do not have the appropriate support services in place and we appear to be no further ahead in that endeavour.”

Bourque says that from the SCS’ opening day on Feb. 28, 2018, to July 30, 2019, ARCHES Supervised Consumption Services had 267,754 total visits, with a daily average of 663, and 1,376 unique individuals. They have responded to 2,531 medical emergencies, with oxygen being administered 2,369 times and Naloxone being administered 984 times. EMS was called 398 times.

“Those are 267,754 uses that did not occur in public spaces like parks and public washrooms and as many appropriately disposed of drug equipment that did not end up in parks and other public locations,” she said.

ARCHES has 174 employees across 17 different programs, including Supervised Consumption Services. The other programs are: HIV and Hepatitis C Client Services; Queer Health; Indigenous Recovery Coaching; Virtual Opioid Dependency Program; Hip Hop for Healing; I’taamohkanoohsin Cultural Program; Housing First Clinical Supports; Housing First Intensive Case Management; Community Based Take Home Naloxone Program; Addictions Counselling; Urban Spirits Nursing Clinic; Justice Services; Community Outreach Addictions Program; Outreach and Education; Syringe Management Program; and Meaningful Daily Activities Program.

“ARCHES staffing is comprised of a multi-disciplinary team of Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, Primary Care Paramedics, Social Workers, Addictions Counsellors, Public Health Workers, Harm Reduction Specialists, People with Lived and/or Living Experience and a variety of other human and social service workers with various experience and educational backgrounds,” Bourque said.

Since opening at the current location, the total referrals include: 588 to treatment; 329 to detox; 178 to housing; 1,330 to health-care services; 220 to mental-health services; and 703 to addictions counselling, Bourque says.

“Research has shown that people who access Supervised Consumption Services are 30 per cent or three times more likely to enter into detox and treatment than people who do not,” she said.

“The new government is reviewing and assessing the current substance use and mental-health system and we are hopeful that this is a sign that there is interest in investing in appropriate treatment, detox, intox and housing models to support a fuller and more complete continuum of care. Supervised Consumption Services are a necessary and important service on the health-care continuum, however they are only one intervention. Without adequate access to other necessary support services, we will not be able to make the necessary gains required during this public-health crisis.

“The South Zone and/or the Municipality of Lethbridge sit number one or number two on nearly every metric identified in the Alberta Health 2019 Quarter 1 Report which further highlights the severity of the issue that we are dealing with in our community and surrounding areas.”

Asked about some popular beliefs about the SCS, Bourque said: “It seems that each day there are new rumours circulating.”

– ARCHES SCS gives people drugs.

“At this time or any time prior, we do not and have not provided illicit substances to people who use drugs.”

– There were no needles or drug issues in Lethbridge until ARCHES opened the Supervised Consumption Service.

“Needle distribution has occurred in Lethbridge since 2001. In addition, the opioid/drug crisis began in Lethbridge five years ago becoming most noticeable in the summer of 2015 (three years prior to the opening of the Supervised Consumption Service). The only thing the SCS did was bring awareness to the crisis and make the issue more visible in our community.

– The SCS is enabling drug use.

“People who access SCS are not first-time drug users, they are generally people who use substances chronically and have been using for extended periods of time. Drug use initiation does not occur in SCS.

The individuals accessing this service will use drugs with or without an SCS.

– The ARCHES building is on a two-year lease.

“No, it is not true.”

– Users are only Indigenous.

“Contrary to what most people believe, the demographics of people accessing Supervised Consumption Services are almost evenly divided between Indigenous (53 per cent) and non-Indigenous (47 per cent) participants which further highlights that the drug crisis affects everyone.”

Bourque says the staff at ARCHES work every day to keep people alive, get vulnerable and at-risk populations connected to appropriate health and social supports, and decrease the harms associated with drug use to the participants and the community.

“They do all of this in a field that is wrought with vicarious trauma which has significant impacts on frontline workers. The staff at ARCHES create an environment that Lethbridge’s most vulnerable people feel safe in, are treated with dignity and respect, and are provided with the compassion, non-judgment and infinite care and support that people need in order to improve their quality of life. All of this is done in the face of an immense amount of community adversity. I feel honoured to be able to work with such passionate and extraordinary people who take extraordinary measures in such an extraordinary time each and every day. To me, they are heroes,” she said.

“The negative rhetoric around the SCS, its participants, and ARCHES staff can be extremely disheartening and sometimes concerning with threats and personal attacks commonly appearing on threads on social media posts. To suggest that the people we serve should die alongside the people who work at ARCHES goes beyond simply engaging in debate around a controversial issue.

“It seems to be difficult for some in our community to separate us as people from our occupation and have personally assigned blame to ARCHES or the individuals that work within it for having created drug use, mental-health issues, homelessness and crime in our community. However, these issues have always existed in Lethbridge and the Supervised Consumption Service was implemented in response to the drug crisis, it did not cause it. Much of the rhetoric is rooted in baseless accusations, misinformation, criticism and, at times, questions around the ethical and professional conduct of staff which could easily be resolved with some research, education, and/or a tour of the facility,” Bourque continued.

“The negativity does not deter us from completing the work and meeting our mandates. We are proud of the work that we do and know that we are providing services that are unequivocally supported by decades and decades of empirical evidence that indicate that the work we are engaging in is best practice.”

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