I attended the Town Hall meeting on March 30 at Boyle Street Plaza to learn more about the upcoming medically-supervised injection services that will be introduced within a year in McCauley and Central McDougall neighbourhoods. Boyle McCauley Heath Centre, Boyle Street Community Services, George Spady Society, and Royal Alexandra Hospital (in-patient only) are the four locations that will be integrating medically-supervised injection to their current list of services. They will also be offering sterile supplies, harm reduction education, referrals to other services, counselling and mental health support, and access to immediate medical attention.
The meeting consisted of a six-person panel organized and moderated by the riding of Edmonton-Greisbach. The Deputy Chief of Police spoke on the position of Edmonton Police Services, which is that the law has not changed on illicit drugs. However, they see medically-supervised injection as a beneficial service and will not be policing inside the service centres. He also mentioned that EPS would like to see more “wraparound services” in the city, including greater access to food, medical, health, and housing services for people who are street entrenched and/or in active addiction.
A doctor who has worked at the Boyle Street Health Centre for three and a half years was there to answer medical questions. The Executive Director of the Chinatown and Area Business Association expressed concern about what effects the new services may have on the neighbourhood, and that businesses in the area hadn’t been consulted on these additions. The executive director of HIV Edmonton and chair of Street Works said the future services will be regularly staffed with at least three trained health providers and will be made available as close to 24 hours a day as possible. A long-time McCauley resident and community advocate also voiced concern regarding the yet unknown effects the integrated services will have on the area. And, a street nurse with experience working for Incite in Vancouver (North America’s first safe-injection site) highlighted the benefits she has seen first hand that medical supervision and support provide.
The topic of harm reduction is slowly gaining attention in the mainstream, but the approach still feels counterintuitive to some. We are generally taught to stay away from things that will hurt us, and that using and misusing certain substances is very dangerous. Unfortunately, for many people, these lessons don’t address the deeper and more complicated reasons for the behaviours themselves. Harm reduction comes into play as an in-between step for a society where we don’t have the answers yet of how to support and care for all members. And, for those who are faced with living higher risk lives harm reduction offers an increased access to provisions that help to lower these risks.
Medical supervision is meant to provide people with dignity, privacy, and a safer alternative to using on the street. It also decreases exposure to and transmission of Hepatitis C, HIV, and other infections that can result from needing to reuse supplies. It has been seen in other communities where supervised injection has been implemented that it also decreases needle litter and situations that may be considered unsightly to some. From all sides of the conversation, it is fair to say that everybody wants their neighbourhood to feel comfortable, safe, and functional for all its members. I look forward to the unknown road ahead.