A professor of public health says the Alberta government’s decision to close down a safe injection site in Calgary is short-sighted and sad. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A professor of public health says the Alberta government’s decision to close down a safe injection site in Calgary is short-sighted and sad. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Public health professor calls Alberta’s move to close safe injection site tragic

Elaine Hyshka says Alberta’s move to close the Safeworks site in Calgary is similar to closing an emergency room at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic

A professor of public health says the Alberta government’s decision to close down a safe injection site in Calgary is short-sighted and sad.

Elaine Hyshka says Alberta’s move to close the Safeworks site in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood is similar to closing an emergency room at the height of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To propose to reorganize them, relocate them, defund them or move them in the midst of the worst drug poisoning we’ve had in Alberta is illogical,” said Hyshka, who teaches at the University of Alberta.

“People who are accessing services take a long time to build trust with the health-care providers that work within the four walls. Closing the service, even if there are other services opened elsewhere in the city, will not just seamlessly result in a transition of care over to a new operator.”

A spokesman for the minister of mental health and addictions said in a statement that the government decided to close the contentious supervised drug consumption site, which also provides counselling and opioid-dependency treatment, because it was causing social disorder and crime.

“What’s more, we have repeatedly heard firsthand of the very negative effects from those who live and work in the Beltline neighborhood,” said Justin Marshall.

He added that the site won’t close until two others are operational in more appropriate locations “much closer to those who need such services” in the city.

But Hyshka, who’s also the scientific director of the Inner City Health and Wellness Program in Alberta, said crime is just an excuse.

“I think the vast majority of complaints related to disorder that may be present in that area are related to the fact that people have nowhere to go, and they’re living and spending time on the street,” she said.

“It is not the service that causes those issues. It’s the fact that the city and the province have failed to invest in permanent supportive housing to support people with complex medical needs to stay housed and to stay safe.”

Hyshka said the government should keep the site open, along with the two new ones, because there have been record-breaking opioid overdoses in Alberta.

“More people died of overdose last year in 2020 in Alberta than of COVID-19 and yet we see the overdose emergency response completely stall.”

A federal report last December noted there were 1,628 apparent opioid toxicity deaths between April and June 2020 when the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It was the highest quarterly count since national surveillance began in 2016.

It also said Western Canada was the hardest hit.

In Alberta, provincial government data shows opioid-related deaths more than doubled to 1,144 in 2020, up from 521 in 2019.

“Governments invest money in their priorities, and we have not seen any new investments beyond overdose prevention, and a new dashboard that displays overdose deaths since 2019,” said Hyshka.

“I talk to families every day that have lost people that they love to overdose, and (they) just feel a lack of attention and a lack of compassion for this population.

“It’s very, very hard.”

Marshall said the UCP government hopes to “have more to say in the future” about the injection sites.

“And yes, funding will be involved,” he added.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Safe injection sites

Just Posted

Some examples of ‘kindness’ rocks that were painted by members of the Boys and Girls Club in Rimbey. photo submitted
The ‘kindness rock snake’ continues to take shape in Rimbey

Residents are asked to contribute a ‘kindness rock’ to a project near the Blindman Youth Action Building

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Member Terry Parsons’ custom built track vehicle.
Forestburg’s Area 53 Racetrack gears up for action-packed season

Site will also host a portion of the ‘Miles of Mayhem’ event in July

Image/ Metro Creative Connection
Rimbey Municipal Library struggling to finish expansion amid construction cost boom

‘We found that the cost is at least $100,000 more than anticipated.’

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

Grade 12 students at Wetaskiwin Composite High School took place in the annual water fight off school property on June 11, 2021. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Graduating students in Wetaskiwin throw water fight after being told it could result in suspension

Students were told their participation could result in them being barred from graduation ceremonies.

The arrest south of Winnipeg occurred before Bernier was to arrive at a protest in the city. (Twitter/Maxime Bernier)
Maxime Bernier arrested following anti-rules rallies in Manitoba: RCMP

He’s been charged with exceeding public gathering limits and violating Manitoba’s requirement to self-isolate

Most Read