Alberta's supervised consumption site identification requirements postponed until 2022

A controversial move that will require clients of Alberta's supervised consumption sites (SCS) to provide personal health information has been delayed until 2022.

The shift means users will not need to provide health numbers to access supervised consumption services until at least January.

The new regulations were set to kick in for providers on Sept. 30. 

A provincial spokesperson says other changes announced in June are still on the docket at the end of the month, including client referrals, staff qualifications and physical site requirements. 

But the personal health information requirement has been receiving the most pushback since it was announced. 

IDENTIFICATION ISSUES

Those who advocated for and those who use SCS services argue identification and health number requirements are a breach of privacy and, in many cases, impossible for clients who are without a permanent address.

Kym Porter of Moms Stop the Harm believes it would lead to fewer clients accessing treatment and, consequently, more street-use. 

"This doesn’t go far enough," said Porter in a statement. "Alberta must repeal the restrictions it has placed on delivering and accessing supervised consumption services in the province or more people will die.”

Last month, the regulations were mentioned in a lawsuit that alleges the government's planned changes break the law. 

SUMMER LAWSUIT

Moms Stop the Harm and the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society allege the new provincial approach to the overdose crisis will have a significantly negative effect on those who access services in Alberta.

The province is set to overhaul the harm reduction approach, which it has repeatedly called "ineffective." 

The changes include the closure of the Safeworks facility inside Calgary's Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre. 

That site provides a private, safe space where people can use their pre-obtained substances, primarily opioids, in a monitored setting. 

The province found it "disruptive to the neighbourhood" and announced its impending closure in May. 

The government has pledged to replace it with similar services in two existing facilities, but information on when or where that will happen is limited. 

Some say they're worried the province isn't set on one specific way forward. 

"It's concerning if they're winging and there's not a specific plan in place," Porter told CTV News.

"We don't know where those other two sites are going to be. How does this help people that are struggling with levels of trust to have any trust with what's going to happen moving forward?"

SERVICE PROVIDERS UNAWARE? 

The collective believes SCS service providers are not yet aware of the identification changes. 

"We are weeks away from when the restrictions were set to be put in place, and despite the postponement, the Alberta government hasn’t informed supervised consumption sites,” Porter wrote.

“It’s reckless; supervised consumption sites need to be notified immediately to ensure they don’t implement measures that will drive people away from accessing their services.”

The province claims providers were notified of the implementation date when the new regulations were first announced. 

A government spokesperson says the January target was always part of the plan to allow providers time to prepare.

FATAL STRETCH

In the first five months of 2021, 624 Albertans lost their life to a overdose. 

That's an increase of 41 per cent over the same time last year — which was already the worst in the province's history. 

A total of 1,316 overdose-related fatalities were recorded in 2020.

PROVINCIAL RESPONSE 

Mike Ellis, the associate minister of mental health and addiction, was unavailable when asked for an interview.  

His office sent a statement saying, in part, "Alberta’s government is implementing quality standards for overdose prevention services to ensure community safety and improve service quality. This includes the collection of personal health numbers as is the case in any healthcare service provided in Alberta.

"In healthcare we know that better data leads to better outcomes. It has always been the case that existing operators will not collect personal health numbers until they are in compliance with the Health Information Act to protect the privacy of clients."