February 7, 2017 10:37 am
Updated: February 7, 2017 3:45 pm

Alberta government announcing new strategy to battle opioid epidemic

WATCH ABOVE: Petra Schulz lost her son to a fentanyl overdose in 2014, and is calling on the Alberta government to declare a public health emergency over the opioid crisis.

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The Alberta government will be announcing a new plan to deal with the province’s opioid crisis.

READ MORE: Alberta gives firefighters access to naloxone kits as fentanyl overdose deaths rise 

There were around 400 deaths in Alberta in 2016 related to opioids.

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READ MORE: Canada’s surging opioid crisis: ‘hodgepodge’ overdose tracking leaves true magnitude unknown

In December, the Alberta government announced a provincial response to the opioid epidemic after carfentanil, which is described as being 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, was said to be responsible for 14 deaths in three months in the province.

“I am deeply concerned about the increasing number of deaths associated with carfentanil,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Karen Grimsrud said in a statement. “It’s possible these individuals were not aware they were taking it.

“It’s an extremely dangerous and deadly opioid. Even the smallest trace can be lethal.”

READ MORE: 14 carfentanil deaths in 3 months spurs opioid warning in Alberta

The province said it’s focusing on harm reduction in its provincial response to the crisis, highlighting the Alberta Office of the Chief Medical Examiner as one of only a “very small number toxicology laboratories in Canada that is able to positively identify carfentanil in human blood.”

Alberta Health said it’s working with experts, community groups, parent advocates, law enforcement and the medical community to focus on four areas:

  1. improving the collection and publishing of data to better target interventions,
  2. expanding access to opioid replacement therapy,
  3. funding community agencies to assess the need for supervised consumption services, and
  4. promoting appropriate opioid prescribing and implementing new tools to prevent prescription drug misuse, in partnership with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.

The province has invested $3 million over three years for an opioid dependency treatment (ODT) expansion project and $240,000 in “proceeds of crime” grants has been given to police and community partners to raise awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and “other illicit drugs.”

READ MORE: A province-by-province look at opioid-overdose stats, including fentanyl

On Monday, leaders from across several sectors came together at MacEwan University in Edmonton to discuss how to better deal with the growing number of opioid users and deaths.

One advocacy group is lobbying government to decriminalize certain drugs and create more supervised drug use sites.

“If people were dying of any other cause of death so frequently and so suddenly, we’d change our entire government policy surrounding those people,” Jordan Westfall, Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, said.

“But because people use drugs, people are still terrified to talk about it and there’s a lot of stigma.”

Alberta Health Services predicts there may be as many as 400 deaths in Alberta in 2017 due to opioid use.

 

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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