‘Ev­ery life holds value’

Su­per­vised Con­sump­tion Site nears one year

Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Tim Kali­nowski LETH­BRIDGE HER­ALD tkali­[email protected]­bridge­herald.com

Be­ing out on a limb is a lonely place at the best of times, and then to have a cer­tain vo­cal group of cit­i­zens de­mand­ing the branch you are on be sawed off — let’s just say it tends to add an­other di­men­sion to that lone­li­ness.

As the Su­per­vised Con­sump­tion Site ap­proaches its first-year an­niver­sary in the com­mu­nity, ARCHES ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Stacey Bourque sits at her desk in her of­fice at the SCS, the smell of sweet­grass gen­tly scent­ing the air, and reflects on a year of chal­lenges and tri­umphs, the bat­tles and the lives saved.

“I think ev­ery­one is sur­prised at how many peo­ple use this fa­cil­ity,” says Bourque. “We knew we had an issue in Leth­bridge, and we knew we needed the ser­vice. I don’t think any­one could have pre­dicted the level of need or the vol­ume that this fa­cil­ity would be used.”

“We are at prob­a­bly 1,050 unique ser­vice users at this point in less than a year,” Bourque ex­plains by way of ex­am­ple. “When we start look­ing at Cal­gary, for in­stance, a city 10 times the size of Leth­bridge, their fa­cil­ity at the one-year point had seen 42,000 vis­its with an av­er­age of 204 vis­its a day and had re­versed around 650 over­doses. In a 10-month pe­riod we saw 128,000 vis­its, we av­er­age well over 600 vis­its a day, and had re­versed 1,392 over­doses. There re­ally is no com­par­i­son when we’re look­ing at other com­mu­ni­ties.”

Bourque tours The Her­ald around the Su­per­vised Con­sump­tion Site proper. It’s mid-af­ter­noon and one of the slow­est times of day for users, but even then peo­ple are ev­ery­where. Staff move around the fa­cil­ity to check on users and en­sure they have what they need to be safe. Small groups gather in ev­ery cor­ner to so­cial­ize or share in­for­ma­tion. Some sit and wait for their turn to shoot up. Oth­ers hang out and use their phones in the lounge area as they come down. The at­mos­phere is or­derly and calm with quiet pop mu­sic float­ing in over the speak­ers.

Peo­ple look up with cu­rios­ity and a cer­tain amount of wari­ness as Bourque, whom they know and trust, brings these strangers into their midst. Bourque ex­plains some have been burned be­fore by use of their images with­out per­mis­sion by lo­cal me­dia out­lets, and most of the clients keep up with the news through so­cial me­dia and are aware of the some­times de­hu­man­iz­ing things said about them by those who don’t un­der­stand their ad­dic­tions.

“Ev­ery life holds value,” she says, “and it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that above all else when we are look­ing at ser­vices, whether or not we agree with the moral foun­da­tion of what that ser­vice is do­ing.”

Bourque says ARCHES will­ingly took on all the chal­lenges of the Su­per­vised Con­sump­tion Site when the or­ga­ni­za­tion agreed to run it, and now will­ingly bears up un­der the some­times with­er­ing crit­i­cism of those who have lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of what they do, and do not care to learn. ARCHES em­ploys 160 staff mem­bers, many at the SCS, who know the value of their own work, she says, even if it is not al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated by those want­ing easy an­swers to the drug cri­sis.

“It’s noth­ing for our staff to ad­dress nine or 10 over­doses on a shift, and it takes a tremen­dous per­sonal toll,” Bourque con­firms. “Our staff has built up re­la­tion­ships with the par­tic­i­pants in this program, and ev­ery­thing is life and death. We are con­stantly in emer­gency mode. As far as I am con­cerned they are he­roes and they de­serve our sup­port.”

And, fright­en­ingly, Bourque says the sit­u­a­tion is get­ting worse as more po­tent opi­oids make their way into Leth­bridge.

“Ev­ery month from July our over­dose num­bers have in­creased in the fa­cil­ity,” she con­firms.

Bourque says she is en­cour­aged by two re­cent de­vel­op­ments which may ac­tu­ally help the sit­u­a­tion. First, the Su­per­vised Con­sump­tion Site now has the abil­ity to hook users up with a doc­tor through TeleHealth who can in­stantly them give a pre­scrip­tion for Subox­one, a com­mon form of ag­o­nist opi­oid ther­apy, to start them on the way to get­ting clean as soon as they want. Sec­ondly, Bourque is en­cour­aged by the provin­cial an­nounce­ment at the end of last year for new in­tox, de­tox and sup­port­ive hous­ing in the com­mu­nity.

“I think like ev­ery­one else I am op­ti­mistic there are other sup­port ser­vices com­ing for peo­ple who use sub­stances,” she says, “and they re­ally needed to be here a long time ago. Ad­dic­tion ser­vices have to op­er­ate on a con­tin­uum. No one ser­vice work­ing in iso­la­tion is go­ing to af­fect sig­nif­i­cant change, and it keeps peo­ple stuck. Be­cause even if there is a de­sire for change, hav­ing those other ser­vices there is re­ally im­por­tant. On the other hand, I know the time­lines for im­ple­ment­ing them are not im­me­di­ate, so there is a pe­riod of time where we’re go­ing to have to func­tion with­out them.”

Maybe that lonely limb may get a lit­tle less lonely as these wrap­around ser­vices es­tab­lish them­selves in the com­mu­nity, but Bourque says ARCHES will con­tinue its mission to save lives re­gard­less of what else may come.

“We will just keep do­ing our best to keep peo­ple alive un­til those op­tions are avail­able,” she says.

Fol­low @TimKalHer­ald on Twit­ter

Her­ald photo by Ian Martens

Lind­say Stella, di­rec­tor of clin­i­cal ser­vices, talks with a client in an in­jec­tion booth in the con­sump­tion area of the Su­per­vised Con­sump­tion Site this week. @IMarten­sHer­ald

Her­ald photo by Ian Martens

An ARCHES staff mem­ber checks the in­ven­tory of emer­gency sup­plies, in­clud­ing items such as air­way tubes, gauze and nalox­one kits, used in the event an over­dose or bad re­ac­tion to a drug, this week at the Su­per­vised Con­sump­tion Site. @IMarten­sHer­ald

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