Opinion SCS

My email to the SCS Review Committee

The Alberta government established a Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee to evaluate the social and economic impacts of current and proposed supervised consumption sites.

This committee is touring the province, and receiving in-person feedback from public engagement sessions. They held two in Lethbridge, and although I attended one, I didn’t speak at the mic. They offer online submissions, as well as email submissions via SCS.Review@gov.ab.ca.

Here’s the email I submitted:

Dear panel members,

I live in Lethbridge. I attended one of your panel feedback sessions. I appreciate your willingness to accept feedback on supervised consumption sites. I trust that your panel will truly be objective as you analyze the feedback you receive. While it’s important to account for anecdotal feedback and personal perceptions, I hope your panel will give significant weight to research-based, scientific, data-driven solutions.

Increase in crime

You will likely have heard that crime has gone up in Lethbridge since the SCS opened here. You may have even heard that we have the highest crime severity index in the country. All that is technically true. However, if you chose to look at crime from that perspective only, I fear that could negatively impact the local SCS. Crime did rise in Lethbridge in 2018; however, it had been rising for several years prior to the SCS opening. Lethbridge’s 2018 CSI was the highest in the country, but the year-to-year increase was its second lowest in 5 years. As well, according to 2019 data publicly available on the Lethbridge Police Service website, crime in Lethbridge is tracking lower year to date compared to the same period last year.

Businesses closing

You will likely have heard that businesses in the area are closing because of the SCS. Please investigate any of these claims. Some closures were planned prior to the SCS opening, even though the actual closure occurred after the SCS opened. Boston Pizza and NAPA Auto Parts are two examples that come to mind.

Enabling drug usage

You will likely have heard that consumption sites enable drug usage. This is untrue. People who use consumption sites are already addicted. The consumption site doesn’t cause addiction. If the SCS didn’t exist, the people taking drugs in the site now would still be taking drugs. Consumption sites don’t enable addiction, but they do manage addiction by allowing people to reduce infection risk and death risk until they are ready to seek treatment.

Fear of going downtown

You will likely have heard that people are afraid to come downtown. The entire 21 years I have lived in Lethbridge, I have heard people making this claim. It used to be public drunkenness and homelessness. Now, it’s drug usage, too. But there’s very little risk to the public from those who are homeless or addicted. My family has lived downtown for nearly 14 years—we work downtown, play downtown, shop downtown—and we have never been threatened. I acknowledge that as a tall, kind of big, white man, I may not come across as a victim, but my spouse and my children as well have not been threatened or endangered. People who are homeless and addicted keep to themselves. The fear people are reporting to you is a perception, not an actual, broad threat.

Increase in drug usage

You will likely have heard that drug usage has gone up in the city. That is a hard statistic to track objectively, but we do know that more than 250,000 instances of drug usage have occurred at the SCS since it opened more than a year and a half ago. While drug usage still occurs in public, clearly the SCS is diverting significant amounts of drug usage out of Lethbridge parks, streets, alleys, and schoolyards. And less drug usage in public places means less drug debris—including discarded needles—in public places.

Needle distribution

And because Arches manages a needle distribution programme, ensuring that free, clean needles are available to the public, any discarded needles that are found in public are less likely to be contaminated with infectious disease. Even so, Arches has a needle collection programme, and they pick up 83% more needles now than they did prior to the SCS opening. Plus, because hundreds of thousands of instances of drug usage occur inside the SCS, Arches doesn’t need to distribute as many needles; in fact, they’re distributing 70% fewer needles than they were prior to the SCS opening.

Treatment services

I can’t speak to consumption sites elsewhere in the province, but the SCS here in Lethbridge  has increased uptake and access to health and social services, including treatment and detox. They’ve made nearly 10,000 referrals to external health services. Inside the SCS, Arches has provided thousands of additional health services to clients as well: nearly 5,000 addictions counselling efforts, nearly 6,000 nursing efforts, and over 2,100 cultural efforts.

Saving lives and money

As well, SCS personnel have reversed thousands of overdoses, saving lives. Of those reversals, only 15.7% needed EMS attendance. Roughly 85% of overdoses were handled exclusively by SCS personnel. The SCS has four multi-disciplinary teams, and each team consists of RNs, LPNs, primary care paramedics, addiction counsellors, harm reduction specialists, and peer support workers. These health care professionals are saving lives and saving taxpayers money.

Dangers of shutting the SCS down

If we shut the SCS down, public drug usage will increase, the number of needles in public will increase, the workload on EMS will increase, and the amount of money taxpayers have to pay toward the drug crisis will also go up. 

Moving forward

Having supervised consumption sites is critical to having a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to addressing the drug crisis. Let’s keep the sites, and let’s add detox services, intox services, treatment services, and supportive housing. If we can have all of these—plus other approaches, such as eliminating poverty and homelessness—we can finally make some real progress on addressing the drug crisis.

Thanks for your time and attention.


Kim Siever

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

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