New UCalgary study shows supervised consumption sites save Alberta health millions

Residents near the Sheldon M. Chumir Supervised Consumption Services Facility had reported an increase of social disorder in the area, including discarded needles. (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

A recent study from the University of Calgary shows that supervised consumption sites (SCS) have saved Alberta nearly $2.3 million dollars.

The study was led by UCalgary Nursing assistant professor Dr. Jennifer Jackson who wanted to show why SCS are necessary. 

Supervised consumption sites (SCS) opened in Calgary in 2017 and reports have shown a 100 per cent success rate.

Despite the success of the sites, Premier Jason Kenney said he wants to limit their number.

“We’ve always said that aspects of harm reduction do have a place within the continuum of care but we believe that in the past, the previous government, placed an almost single-minded focus on so-called harm reduction and they shifted resources away from recovery and treatment. We think that’s a dead end,” Kenney said back in February. 

“Facilitating addiction is not a way out of addiction.”

In January, Premier Kenney had suggested moving or closing SCS in some communities.

Results of the new U of C study show that SCS help reduce health costs.

“This study was about what saves money for Alberta health care,” said Jackson. Jackson is also a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at UCalgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).

“And the takeaway is that, yes, SCS save money, free up ambulances, and decrease the number of people using emergency rooms.”  

98 per cent of cases managed on site

A study done by the Alberta Community Council on HIV said that Calgary saw 992 overdoses and 917 didn’t require EMS response.

The University of Calgary study seemed to align with these findings.

“When people overdose at the SCS, the staff currently manage 98 per cent of these at their site, which translates to 700 people a year that don’t need ambulance or emergency management,” said Jackson.  

While there’s a pause on new supervised consumption sites, Jackson hopes this data will show why the SCS are important.

“In times where the health-care system is challenged to cut costs, keeping SCS are definitely a place where a difference can be made,” she said.

Calgary has some of the highest SCS use rates in the province. 

Between April and September of last year (2019), 3,982 users visited a supervised consumption site. That’s approximately 133 people per day. 

Edmonton followed behind with 2,085 users, but they have three SCS opposed to Calgary’s one. 

Community concerns

Some people believe the SCS have a negative effect on the communities they reside in.

According to Open Alberta, Calgarians have similar concerns as other cities in that the sites are causing needle debris, additional crime and a decrease in property value.

A report was commissioned by the province that showed nearly 56 per cent of people felt less safe in communities that contain SCS.

Survey results included in the province’s Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee’s report show 56 per cent of people feel walking in their neighbourhood after dark has become less safe since the drug site opened in their city. / Calgary

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said in the past that only opening one SCS in Calgary was a mistake. It ended up concentrating some of the related social problems to one area, exacerbating the community impact.

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