injection site for Lethbridge

Edmonton and Lethbridge are the first cities in Alberta to get Health Canada approval to offer safe injection sites for opioid drugs.

Alberta Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne said the decision will help reduce a growing number of fatal drug overdoses and the spread of diseases such as HIV.

"Evidence shows supervised consumption services save lives, reduce the spread of infectious diseases, reduce drug use in public and reduce the number of needles discarded on streets and public parks," Payne said Wednesday.

Payne said the sites will also offer health, counselling and drug-treatment services to people who may not have a family physician or live on the street.

Health Canada is expected to make a decision about a safe injection site in Calgary by the end of the month.

So far this year, Alberta has reported 315 fentanyl-rated overdose deaths. There were 586 suspected opioid-related deaths in the province last year.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information has said data from Alberta suggests emergency room visits related to heroin and synthetic opioid overdoses spiked almost 10-fold in the last five years.

Four safe injection sites have been approved for Edmonton — three in inner-city neighbourhoods and one at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

Karen Turner, of the group Alberta Addicts Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly, said the safe sites are badly needed.

"People who are street-involved are very vulnerable and I have personally known many people who have died of unintentional overdose," she said in a statement. "It is heartbreaking and having access to supervised injection services will help."

The Lethbridge site will be operated by a community organization in the city's downtown.

The southern Alberta city has been dealing with an opioid crisis. Officials have estimated the city has 3,000 drug users and an overdose rate 24 per cent higher than other parts of the province.

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