Government setting the stage for the closure and possible relocation of existing supervised consumption services
As reported in the media today, Premier Jason Kenney is already setting the stage for what could be the closure or relocation of Supervised Consumption Services (SCS) in Alberta. While the Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee was tasked with reporting to the government by the end of 2019, their report has yet to be publicly released.
Friends of Medicare would like to take this opportunity to counter the negative and dehumanizing narrative that underlies the Premier’s comments, and to remind the government of a few facts:
- In the 2011 case of Canada (Attorney General) v PHS Community Services Society, The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that not allowing SCS would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; denying these services would be grossly disproportionate to the benefit. While provinces have constitutional control over how health-care services are provided, Alberta must operate within the framework of the Charter.
- In order to have an application approved by Health Canada, every SCS site undergoes extensive consultations with their communities. Locations for sites were carefully determined as a result of these consultations.
- Crime rates have not been found to have been impacted by the existence of SCS. Organizations continue to work with communities and the police to develop strategies to mitigate their impact.
- SCS sites have been implemented as a response to extremely high overdose rates across Alberta. Two people die every day of opioid poisoning alone. To date, the province’s 7 SCS sites maintain a 100% success rate of overdose reversal.
The government must understand that, as evidence shows, harm reduction keeps individuals and communities safer and healthier. To omit harm reduction from the government’s plan for mental health and addiction carries the message that the lives of thousands of Albertans at risk of overdose are expendable. There are many reasons why various treatments may not be successful, or may not be the right fit for an individual – this should not mean that they are denied the basic supports to keep them alive. In many cases, people who use supervised consumption services do not have access to mainstream health resources, and so SCS serves as an entry point into the health care system and other needed supports, including treatment.
“The government should recognize and act accordingly with the fact that after years of neglect and under-funding of our mental health and additions services, we will never have enough treatment beds for everyone in need immediately,” says Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare. “Eliminating harm reduction would leave Albertans vulnerable to overdose, HIV and Hepatitis C, all at great cost to individuals and the health system.”
Supervised consumption is neither the cause nor the solution for all of the social issues associated with poverty and homelessness. However, the impact of withdrawing or reducing supervised consumption services would do great harm to the people accessing the services, the organizations that work directly with them, the surrounding communities, and the health system that will absorb increased costs.
Ultimately, this is about saving the lives of Albertans. This government must understand that we need stable funding and more — not less — of this vital and effective strategy.