By Lethbridge Herald on September 16, 2020.
With still limited usage of the new mobile overdose prevention site by Lethbridge’s most vulnerable, Sage Clan Patrol leader Mark Brave Rock is warning local officials and residents that drug use and needle debris are now proliferating around the city in a way his group, which does community outreach and needle and drug debris collection, hadn’t seen before the former supervised consumption site closed.
“Definitely yes,” Brave Rock responded when asked if his group has seen more problems since the ARCHES-run SCS closed on Aug. 31.
“We have encountered a lot more ODs and the needles have increased in the downtown area. Last night (Tuesday) we did a late patrol separate from our regular patrol just to check areas outside of downtown. We found six needles in one spot at the skatepark at Henderson right by the ball diamond. We have gone out and done these types of spot checks from people on the street who inform us, and they are there.
“The usage of drugs has gone beyond the downtown in a centralized area (near the old SCS) that was the major place in the past,” he added.
Brave Rock said, from what he is hearing and seeing, Alpha House, the organization which runs the homeless shelter where the mobile OPS is located, has tightened security since taking over management.
“Being around the area, I don’t see much use of the OPS, I can say,” said Brave Rock. “Alpha House does not want people hanging around the area where the mobile unit is located. So they (the drug addicted) are leaving the area. Alpha House has done a good job there clearing the area. The dealers aren’t there.”
Brave Rock said that means people seeking drugs among Lethbridge’s homeless are going elsewhere in the city to buy, and they are going to use close to where they buy.
“They are not going to go all the way over there (to the OPS) just to use, and take advantage of that service,” he explained. “They are not going to pay a cab to go over there. They are just using everywhere, and needles are being found all over the place.”
According to the office of the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan, the mobile OPS served about 33 clients per day between Sept. 1 and Sept. 13. The unit has dealt with two overdose reversals and eight other events which required supportive medical measures since opening on Aug. 17.
There have been no overdose deaths at the OPS. No one has been turned away due to capacity issues, and referrals to additional help for users of the site are being made.
“The new Alberta Health Services (AHS) Overdose Prevention Service (OPS) is providing an effective service to addicts in Lethbridge,” says a statement from the Associate Minister’s office.
However, there have been more overdose events outside of the OPS in the broader community during that timespan.
Lethbridge EMS responded to 32 events requiring naloxone in August, and it responded to 14 overdose events requiring naloxone between Sept.1 and Sept. 13, the Associate Minister’s office confirmed.
Information provided by Luan’s office also indicates there has been no noted upward trend in overdose deaths in September in Lethbridge since the SCS closed.
“There is no indication of a change in trend in opioid-overdose deaths in Lethbridge in the first two weeks of September,” the statement reads; “the data is not available from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner as the numbers are too small to release due to the potential to identify individual persons.”
There have been anecdotal reports about increased overdose deaths in the AHS South Zone in recent months. An Alberta Health spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday no official stats have been compiled for public release yet, but the quarterly report on overdoses and overdose deaths in Alberta between April and June is expected to be released in the next few weeks. The quarterly report for July, August and September won’t be out until November.
Numbers released by the British Columbia Coroners Service at the end of August indicate a massive spike in suspected overdose deaths in that province since March when COVID-19 hit. In February there were 73 deaths, the report indicates, in March there were 113 deaths, and that number trended upward in the following months with 174 deaths reported in May, 177 reported in June, and 175 reported in July.
Alberta’s numbers are also anticipated to follow a similar trend when Alberta Health’s quarterly report is officially released.
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