Local candidates weigh in on supervised consumption site

By Jessie Weisner
March 25, 2019 - 5:19pm Updated: March 26, 2019 - 4:46pm


MEDICINE HAT, AB -- Right now in Alberta, supervised consumption sites are located in Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge, and soon to be Medicine Hat.

Many Hatters have concerns about the dangers associated with the site such as increased crime and needle debris.

A lack of consultation with residents and businesses located near the site has also been a big issue.

Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP candidate Drew Barnes says consultation was an issue

“When a government like the NDP comes in and just forces this on us,” says Barnes. “You don’t get people’s involvement, you don’t get the best ideas, you don’t get peoples support.”

Barnes has served as Medicine Hat’s MLA for the past two terms, and says he wasn’t properly informed about the site.

“The group involved came to me and said they’re going to do it, what did I think and I told them what I thought at that point,” says Barnes. “Then I got a call some months later saying that they had signed the lease on the place they’ve decided to put it, they were announcing it to the media the next day at 11:00 and we’re good to go.”

Barnes says the government’s lack of insight on the long-term affects of site is concerning.

He says instead, the focus should be on additional addiction resources.

“We have to make sure that people have more, that people who are unfortunately affected have more access to councillors, more access to meaningful addictions counselling, addictions beds, detox beds,” he said.

Barnes adds a better way to handle the local opioid crisis is to have stiffer penalties for people who commit drug crimes.

“We have to make sure the people that do the crime have meaningful and real penalties for hurting our people and our children and our society so much, those are things that have to happen,” he said.

The opinion is starkly different compared to the opinion of Cypress-Medicine Hat Alberta Party candidate Colette Smithers.

“If there was a family member, somebody I loved going through distress or who’s life was in danger, wouldn’t I do everything possible to step in and save them? I firmly believe that’s what the supervised consumption site is all about, it’s about saving lives.”

Smithers says she attended a three-part series at the Medicine Hat Public Library about the local opioid crisis, and the community’s response.

“The better informed I am, the better informed all of us become,” says Smithers. “I think that’s what we can do to help ourselves come to a place of ease, a place of comfort with things like the supervised consumption site.”

Smithers says the opioid crisis in Medicine Hat needs to be addressed and a supervised consumption site is the first step to achieving that.

She says residents just need to be more informed on the topic.

“The supervised consumption site isn’t going away, it’s about saving lives, how can we do that to make everyone in our community feel comfortable with it.”

“We’ve heard the stories from other sites about the increase in crime, the exposure to young children, you’re finding needles and such. Can we at least have the conversation about these are the challenges we’re facing, how can we all work together?”

The local NDP candidates declined an on-camera interview, but one did issue a statement on supervised consumption sites.

Cypress-Medicine Hat NDP candidate, Peter Mueller says:

"This year, 746 people have died from opioid overdoses across Alberta. There is clearly still an opioid crisis and it's affecting every community. In Medicine Hat, the rate of overdose deaths have increased from 2.6 per 100,000 in 2016, to 17.5 per 100,000 in 2018.
Those numbers represent people with loved ones, with families who mourn their loss.
Supervised consumption services to save lives, and thousands of lives have been saved through these services across the province. The services also ensure that we are meeting clients where they are at, to help them access treatment, health supports and other wrap-around services to combat addictions and mental health issues."

There’s no official opening date set for the supervised consumption site, but work has begun on the building.

The provincial election is set for April 16.

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