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Outside the supervised drug consumption site in Lethbridge, Alta., that became the busiest in North America, on April 10, 2019.Todd Korol

A supervised drug-consumption site in Lethbridge that became the busiest in North America will shut down at the end of the month after a financial audit prompted the provincial government to pull its funding.

Alberta Health Services will open a mobile site on Monday to fill the gap as the government considers the future of supervised-consumption services in Lethbridge and across the province. The United Conservative Party government has questioned the value of the facilities, and commissioned a report released earlier this year that concluded the sites harm surrounding businesses and neighborhoods.

The province ended its funding agreement with ARCHES, the non-profit agency that runs the site, in June, after a report from Deloitte said $1.6-million was unaccounted-for. The report also said $13,000 was spent on parties, staff retreats and gift cards, in addition to travel expenses, including $4,300 for managers to attend a conference in Portugal.

The ARCHES board, which has not publicly responded to the audit, issued a news release this week that said the site will close on Aug. 31, as would its needle pickup and outreach programs.

The news release said ARCHES has worked with Alberta Health to ensure a smooth transition for its clients.

“The board would like to acknowledge the staff that continue to provide a high level of care to the clients and work through this difficult transition,” the release said.

The province’s associate minister for mental health and addictions, Jason Luan, was not available for an interview. His press secretary, Kassandra Kitz, said in a statement that a mobile site will open in Lethbridge on Monday.

“The site will work with local partners, like the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre, with a heavy emphasis on access to recovery-oriented supports, such as transitional shelter, detox and referral to treatment,” the statement said.

Ms. Kitz said the mobile facility can meet the demand that ARCHES covered, and offer the same services, except inhalation rooms. She said the rooms have not operated in months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said the mobile site is a temporary solution while the government works on a long-term plan for treating addiction in Lethbridge, which she said will include supervised-consumption service.

Alberta has seven supervised-consumption sites. The government released a report in March that concluded the sites led to an increase in crime and disorder in their neighbourhoods. Experts said the evidence did not support the report’s findings.

The government has said its focus is on rehabilitation and treatment, and it has announced funding to increase the number of drug-treatment beds in the province. It has also announced plans for recovery communities, also known as therapeutic communities, which offer long-term residential treatment programs.

Petra Schulz of the group Moms Stop the Harm said she was skeptical the mobile site can meet the same demand as ARCHES.

“You can’t replace the busiest consumption site in the country with a little mobile site,” she said.

“If there are issues of financial mismanagement, as is alleged, then address those issues — either with the current provider, and if that’s not possible, [Alberta Health Services] should take over the site and start running it until they can transition to a different provider.”

The Opposition NDP’s mental health and addiction critic, Heather Sweet, wasn’t available for an interview. In a statement, she said the government should have appointed a trustee to continue operating the ARCHES facility instead of switching to a mobile site that would be inadequate.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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