Funding for supervised consumption sites unknown beyond March

The operators of supervised consumption sites in Alberta will not know until early next year if funding will be extended beyond March 31, MLAs on the standing committee of families and communities were told Friday.

Jason Luan, associate minister for mental health and addictions, confirmed Tuesday during a review of the health budget estimates that he is awaiting the findings of a panel looking at the social and economic impact of Alberta’s existing sites before to committing to further funding. 

The panel, chaired by former Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht, is expected to report to government by the end of the year.

In a testy exchange with NDP MLA Heather Sweet, Luan said a decision will be made based on that report’s findings after cabinet looks at them in early 2020.

“To me, that is reasonable advance notice,” Luan said.

“It’s not reasonable, minister,” Sweet replied. “Do you know how many people access those sites every day?” 

Luan told the committee that Alberta’s seven supervised sites reported 397,769 visits between January 2018 to June 2019. 

But he questioned with the accuracy of the numbers because, he said, the sites with more employees collect data differently than those with a handful of staff members. 

Sweet told reporters that staff at consumption sites don’t know if they will be working past March 31. 

“The minister wouldn’t commit today to any funding so as of right now, the assumption would be that they’re not funding them past March,” she said. 

Luan brushed off concerns that the consumption sites won’t get enough notice if their funding isn’t renewed for the next fiscal year. 

“Our commitment is that as soon as cabinet makes a decision, we are forming our policy how to move forward on this,” he said. “The site provider will be the first to be notified.”

On Monday, Luan announced a new mental health and addictions council that will look at improving access to a “recovery-oriented mental health and addiction system.” 

Luan has been adamant that the government should focus more on recovery from addictions than on supervised consumption sites. 

The NDP has argued that consumption sites are part of a larger system to help people addicted to opioids by keeping them alive and providing access to programs when they are ready to seek treatment.

Edmonton has three supervised consumption sites; the remaining four Alberta locations are in Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie. 

The United Conservative government froze funding for new sites earlier this summer pending the outcome of the review into the existing sites. 

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