June 25, 2020

Study shows supervised consumption sites could save Alberta government money

Cost analysis by UCalgary Nursing and Cumming School of Medicine team indicates benefits to supervised consumption sites

Supervised consumption sites (SCS) can save millions of dollars and free up emergency medical services (EMS) for non-opioid issues, says a recent report from UCalgary Nursing assistant professor Dr. Jennifer Jackson (PhD).  

“This study was about what saves money for Alberta health care,” says Jackson, who is also a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at UCalgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). “And the take-away is that, yes, SCS save money, free up ambulances, and decrease the number of people using emergency rooms.”  

Jackson used population-level data, information that is publicly available from the Calgary SCS, as well as provincial data for a three-year period (2017 to 2020) to analyze the cost benefit of managing overdoses at the SCS instead of EMS. Each overdose that is managed at the SCS produces approximately $1,600 in cost savings, with a savings of over $2.3 million since the site opened. While the Government of Alberta released a report into SCS across the province earlier this year, that document focused on community impact and not cost analysis.  

“We chose to look at overdose management, preventions of overdose-related deaths and the associated cost impacts for Alberta Health,” Jackson explains. “SCS are widely accepted as decreasing fatal accidental overdoses. When people overdose at the SCS, the staff currently manage 98 per cent of these at their site, which translates to 700 people a year that don’t need ambulance or emergency management.”  

Jackson’s research examined overdose rates and whether providing care at the SCS rather than in-hospital treatment was less expensive. For the purposes of this research, Jackson and project consultants from the Centre for Health Informatics at CSM defined an overdose as the application of a medical intervention to a client who is not rousable. This includes administration of oxygen or naloxone or calling EMS. 

Jackson’s hope is that her research will encourage policy-makers to look more closely at SCS in Calgary specifically, but also across the spectrum. 

“In times where the health-care system is challenged to cut costs, keeping SCS are definitely a place where a difference can be made.”

Dr. Jennifer Jackson (PhD)

Dr. Jennifer Jackson (PhD), assistant professor, UCalgary Nursing