Harm reduction advocates send open letter to province protesting Lethbridge SCS closure

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Some experts worry trends in British Columbia, which recently marked a third-straight month with more than 170 overdose deaths, could also happen in Alberta.

Bonnie Larson, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine and a physician, also works with people who use drugs. She said it’s difficult to make conclusions without data but believes Alberta is likely suffering the same “dual public health crisis” of opioids and COVID-19 seen in other provinces.

“Every province is seeing not just an increase or a trending upwards. It’s a doubling or tripling of overdoses,” Larson said. “It is shocking that they’re outright closing this facility. . . . This is an essential, life-saving service.”

Larson likened ARCHES to a hospital given the scope of services offered.

“It’s like replacing a hospital with a walk-in clinic,” she said. “You have to maintain a service for people who need it and are at risk.”

In a statement Sunday, the provincial government defended its decision to defund ARCHES.

“An audit of ARCHES in Lethbridge showed significant abuse of taxpayer dollars, unaccounted for funds, and mismanagement of the organization,” said Kassandra Kitz, press secretary to Luan. “The Government of Alberta cannot, in good conscience, provide millions in taxpayer dollars to an organization that has failed to manage them appropriately.”

Kitz said the province is working with municipal officials and other stakeholders to establish a long-term strategy for drug users in Lethbridge.

Blood said he wants provincial officials to listen to the experiences and needs of those who work at and use supervised consumption sites.

“They need to treat this seriously,” he said. “It’s just not going to fix the problem, shutting down the consumption site.”

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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