In early 2017, the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs held a rally in Edmonton, calling for the government to take action to adequately address the growing opioid crisis. The demonstrators demanded that the government respond with a sense of urgency that is proportional to the crisis at hand. According to the Alberta Annual Health Report released in the fall of 2017, there has been a 40 percent increase in deaths related to opioid use. In October of 2017, 482 Albertans had died in opioid-related overdoses, equating to 2 deaths per day. At the same time in 2016, there had been 346 opioid related deaths.
The Alberta government has reacted by approving six supervised consumption services in Calgary, Lethbridge, and Edmonton. Calgary has become the first Albertan city to open a safe-consumption site for opioid users. The aim is to ensure users have safe access to supervised consumption, health services, and social supports. Alberta Health Services has also received approval to offer supervised consumption services to in-patients at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, making it the first acute care hospital in North America to provide these services.
Further action taken by the Alberta government includes expanding services and supports for opioid users. For example, The Opioid Dependency Program in Edmonton has been expanded to surrounding cities in which medication-assisted treatment and counselling will be provided to those struggling with opioid use. Opioid antidote kits have also been made available to first responders and the public. Furthermore, the government is taking steps to work with physicians to limit the over-prescription of opioids and to open lines of communication between patients and doctors about the highly addictive nature of the drug.
Despite these measures, there are calls for more meaningful input from drug users, frontline responders, and people who have lost loved ones to overdoses. Activists argue that, as well as an increase in services and treatment centres, stigma is a large issue that needs to be addressed and the reduction of stigma and the option of decriminalization should be openly discussed when addressing the crisis. According to Shanell Twan, an outreach worker and a board member of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, rather than viewing people suffering with addiction through a moral or criminal lens, they should be viewed through a health lens in which appropriate healthcare services are provided.
More information on Alberta’s response to the opioid crisis can be found here.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.