Alberta addictions minister’s tweet about supervised consumption sites draws concern

Alberta’s associate minister of mental health and addictions is being criticized for a message he wrote on Twitter about supervised consumption sites.

The United Conservative government has said community concerns and a rapidly growing addictions crisis is why it called for a review before moving forward with pending supervised consumption sites, like ones planned for Red Deer and Medicine Hat.

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The government’s plan to hold off on funding for new proposed sites has brought the conversation about the sites’ socioeconomic impact back into the spotlight.

READ MORE: Debate over supervised consumption sites ramps up across Alberta

On Tuesday night, associate minister Jason Luan tweeted: “These reviews never reference the impact to the surrounding community and business. They only focused on the benefits of harm reduction to the users. How much of the so called ‘evidence-based research’ is funded by the multi billion dollar Pharma industry? Full disclosure is needed.”

The tweet was later deleted.

Tweet sent by Alberta MLA Jason Luan on July 16, 2019.

In an email to Global News, his press secretary said: “Minister Luan deleted the tweet. He didn’t intend to pre-judge the review in any way; he’s committed to a robust analysis of the impacts on local communities and making decisions based on the evidence,” Steve Buick wrote.

Petra Schulz, with Moms Stop the Harm, took issue with Luan’s message.

“I have never seen any big pharma attached to research around supervised consumption sites because, frankly, there is no big money in it,” she said. “I’m very familiar with the research in the area and that doesn’t apply.”

Schulz said supervised consumption sites are just one part of addressing this complex health issue.

“We agree that we have to do more, but that harm reduction is a key element of what we need to do,” she said.

“First we have to keep people alive, we have to connect with them and get them into available services when people are ready and the services that are most suited to them.”

READ MORE: Neighbours of Edmonton’s newest supervised consumption site hope it means fewer needles on street

Health Canada describes the sites as “a long-term, comprehensive approach to addressing the harms associated with problematic substance use.”

There are seven in the province of Alberta. Edmonton has four, with one each in Calgary, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie.

Watch below (July 8): Protests held for and against Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site 

Schulz is worried that delaying the approval of more locations will put lives at risk.

“I don’t understand the review in the first place,” she said. “While we are reviewing, we have three sites that are ready to go: Medicine Hat, the mobile in Calgary, and Red Deer.

“They are urgently needed. We have high overdose rates in those communities.”

READ MORE: Spike in crime around Calgary supervised consumption site leads to questions about resources

A report from Calgary police on crime and disorderly conduct in the vicinity of the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre’s supervised consumption site shows a dramatic spike in crime and drug-related calls since it opened.

The report, released in January, found officers saw a 276 per cent increase in drug-related calls in the buffer zone compared to the three-year average.

During the election campaign, the UCP said it was committed to reviewing supervised consumption site services, both pending and existing.

“We’re going to do a review with a robust socioeconomic assessment for those, particularly for the impact to the community and the businesses and residents,” Luan said last month.

“What he’s focused on is a socioeconomic review but frankly, this is a health service and we are in the midst of a public health crisis,” Schulz said on Wednesday.

“I don’t know what socioeconomic element trumps human life.”

READ MORE: Amid opioid crisis, supervised consumption sites face uncertain future in Alberta, Ontario

The Opposition NDP is demanding the associate minister apologize “for slandering Alberta SCS researchers.”

In a news release, the NDP said “the research Luan referred to was conducted by University of Alberta academics, funded by a grant approved under a Progressive Conservative government.”

The Opposition also said Luan’s role requires him to review evidence impartially.

“Minister Luan’s public statements suggest his mind is made up without examining evidence or completing his review,” Heather Sweet, Opposition Critic for Addictions and Mental Health, said. “This is deeply troubling when access to a life-saving service has been thrown into doubt and is being based on conspiracy.”

Watch below (June 7): A funding freeze by the provincial government on supervised consumption sites triggered a heartfelt plea from families affected by addiction. Jill Croteau reports.