Early signs of success for Edmonton’s safe injection sites, expert says

Safe injection sites have shown early signs of success in Edmonton, the director of the sites says.

Marliss Taylor, director for harm reduction program Streetworks, said the two safe consumption sites they operate have seen a combined 112 medical emergencies — a large majority of which are reversed overdoses.

The site in Boyle Street Community Services has been open since March and the site in the George Spady Centre has been open since April.

“We’re quite delighted with how this has worked so far,” Taylor said Friday. “We have seen how it has been successful in terms of providing education, support and referrals.”

About 650 unique individuals have used the safe consumption sites. There were 1,239 service referrals within the first three months of the sites being operational and they’ve seen 9,213 visits so far.

Not everyone in the community supports the safe consumption sites. Chinatown’s business association launched a legal challenge of the sites in November, citing lack of consultation and no proof that clustering three in a small area works.

A public advisory group was formed after the sites were announced to address impacts and concerns from the safe consumption sites.

Taylor said Streetworks has been aware of the community’s concerns since the start. “We actually haven’t heard many since the site opened,” she said.

Challenging winter

Though the sites have been a success, Taylor still thinks they could improve — especially as they gear of for their first winter.

Currently, the hours for the Boyle Street site are 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and the George Spady Centre is open evenings, weekends and overnight.

Taylor, who is also a nurse, said they may have to look into more space and staff for the winter months when it gets cold for Edmonton’s homeless population.

The cold will also make it even more dangerous to inject.

“If any part of your body is out in the cold, your veins tend to dive down deeper into your body or your arm and you can’t find them,” Taylor said. “People will expose a part of their body because they need to inject. That vein tends to disappear and then they’re even more unsafe.”

Marliss Taylor , longtime manager of Edmonton’s Street Works needle exchange, says the supervised consumption sites have shown early signs of success. (CBC)

When winter arrives, Taylor guesses they will have more people cycling through and some staying the night. She’s not sure they have the space for it.

“We’re managing now, but come winter, it’s going to be tougher.”

But the early successes are apparent. People who used the safe consumption site have come hack to say they’re in a better housing situation or that they’re trying to get clean now that they have access to things like support services and naloxone or methadone.

“That is the part that happens around supervised consumption that is often not talked about,” she said.

They have no way to track how many people they’ve put on the right track by referring them to support services, but Taylor is confident they’ve made a difference not only in the lives of users, but also the neighbourhood as well.

“I am of the belief that this has actually helped neighbourhoods in many ways — although that one’s hard to quantify and everyone has a different view,” she said.

“I do think that things are certainly not worse.”

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