No more clean drug paraphernalia to be handed out in Edmonton LRT stations after city rule change

Boyle Street Community Services (BSCS) outreach workers contracted by the City of Edmonton can no longer hand out clean needles and pipes for drug use in public transit.

Since its formation in June, the city’s opioid response team has been handing out harm reduction supplies such as food, naloxone, educational supplies, syringes and pipes in transit spaces and adjoining pedways downtown.

The distribution of pipes and syringes has stopped as of Feb. 1.

“This clarified approach recognizes that even when the distribution of these supplies is combined with messaging about where to use and not use, open drug use in the spaces continues to result in safety concerns and exposure to potential harm,” Ryan Birch, director of bus operations with the city, said in a statement.

“We anticipate this clarification will prevent negative interactions between those working in transit spaces and those turning to transit spaces to consume drugs.”

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A representative for the transit union agrees that the current program is not working.

“We need to do something different and if that means to cancel that program and ramp up something else, I’ve got some ideas for that,” said Steve Bradshaw.

Bradshaw said this boils down to a health care issue and wants to see it dealt with by the province.

“It’s a failure of the people under the dome of the legislature to fulfill their mandate,” he said.

Bradshaw doesn’t blame the city and says administration has done what it can to deal with the drug use.

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Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi called the rule change a necessary step because the program was seeing more negatives than positives.

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“We cancelled that program because we were noticing that when we give those supplies to people who are facing an addictions crisis, they have no place to go to actually use those supplies,” said Sohi.

Sohi called for more supervised consumption sites and for the introduction of a safe supply, where people who use drugs would be provided “pharmaceutical alternatives” to use.

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Ward Nakota Isga councillor Andrew Knack said he thinks handing out clean supplies is humane.

“At the same time, I think that there’s a recognition and understanding that safe usage of substances is probably still not ideal in our LRT stations. It’s far better in a shelter where there is the right support and care,” he said.

“I sympathize with the city staff that are going through this balance of trying to provide a humane response to those who need support and care and at the same time recognizing Edmontonians’ broad concern around what they’re seeing and experiencing in LRT stations in particular.”

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Judith Gale, who runs the volunteer harm reduction group Bear Clan, said she can see the change in policy creating a lot of problems.

“It’s just good math that when you supply human beings with good, clean (supplies) then they don’t die,” Gale said.

“That’s what good harm reduction is about — keeping our brothers and sisters alive so they can crawl out of that hole, that they can make a decision that is going to change their life.”

Gale said that since the new rules apply to workers contracted by the city, her group will continue their harm reduction as usual.

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