MEDICINE HAT, AB – The numbers keep rising for Medicine Hat Police, as the city’s drug problem continues to grow.
Officers have responded to 11 overdoses across the city in the past month, including two calls as recently as Monday night.
Insp. Brent Secondiak said he’s never seen so many cases related to overdoses in such a short time span.
“Our officers, they're doing well,” said Secondiak. “But, the frequency is overwhelming how many we're going to.”
Of the 11 overdoses that police responded to in the last month, two resulted in deaths.
According to Secondiak, most of the cases are related to the ongoing opioid crisis with heroin and fentanyl to blame in this month’s Medicine Hat cases.
“They're way more commonplace now than they've ever been,” he said. “It's not uncommon for an officer to seize heroin or drugs suspected to be fentanyl on the street daily.”
Police have also used the drug Narcan 49 times between January and August, which helps to reverse the effects of an overdose.
Secondiak said while it’s been incredibly effective, it’s not a fix to the overall problem of addiction.
“It's amazing, but it's not a solution,” he said. “It's a Band-Aid, it's a temporary solution to get somebody healthy, and hopefully get them access to the help they need.”
Last fall, Medicine Hat Police established a new unit to form connections with those suffering from cyclical addiction in the community in the hopes of avoiding future overdoses.
Called the Addictions & Crisis Team, the unit has Cst. Travis Funk meeting with clients and the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“We really just try to connect with those people and form a supportive relationship with them, and get them whatever supports they need in the community,” said Funk.
It’s been over two years of operation for the Medicine Hat Recovery Centre, which offers detoxification and treatment programs for locals struggling with addiction.
Manager Debbie Vass said many people don’t realize the lengthy process it can take to get someone clean.
“This isn't a one time issue,” said Vass. “You come in for six days and detox and think it's all good, because that's not how it works. These clients need to be supported for long periods of time, they need a physician, they need a psychiatrist, they need an addiction councillor or a mental health therapist.”
HIV Community Link is still moving ahead with their plans to open a supervised consumption site in Medicine Hat this year, but they are still scouting locations in the downtown and North Railway Street areas.
Once a location is selected, they will then apply to the federal government for approval.
Clinical lead for Safelink Corey Ranger said there’s more to running a supervised consumption site than just preventing overdoses.
“Supervised consumption services are a launching point,” said Ranger. “So, that when someone accesses our services a few times, say they need access to housing, we'll be able to streamline and facilitate that process.”
The Safelink program meanwhile will be moving to a new office on October 1 at 641 4th Street SE, but they stress the office is meant to be temporary and would not house supervised consumption services.
In the spring, the Medicine Hat Coalition on Supervised Consumption released a study that found AHS’ South Zone had the highest rate of emergency room visits related to opioids in the province.
Funk added they’re trying to narrow their focus with an emphasis on harm reduction in the hopes of reducing the number of overdoses in the city.
“If we can reduce the amount and reduce the harm through a harm reduction lens, then maybe we'll see a reduction in the ER visits,” he said. “But, only time will tell.”
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