January 11, 2016 9:23 pm

Alberta health minister disappointed former PC government declined drug-treatment funding

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman pictured in October 2015.

Global News

EDMONTON — Alberta’s health minister says she is disappointed the previous PC government turned down $1.4 million in funding for drug-treatment programs.

“We owe it to Albertans and families struggling with the realities of addiction to make sure we use every opportunity to support them,” Sarah Hoffman said in a statement to Global News Monday.

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Hoffman was responding to a CBC report. The report cites a letter dated March 16, 2015, in which Fern Miller, then acting executive director of the addiction and mental health branch of Alberta Health, told Health Canada the province was declining the funds “due to a variety of factors including our current environment of fiscal constraint.”

The money was to come from Health Canada’s Drug Treatment Funding Program, according to the letter, obtained through an Access to Information and Privacy request.

At the time, illegal use of fentanyl was a growing problem in Alberta. There were 120 fentanyl-related deaths in 2014 in the province. That number spiked to 213 in the first nine months of 2015.

READ MORE: New numbers reveal fentanyl fatalities continue to rise in Alberta

In her statement to Global News, Hoffman said the issue only recently came to her attention.

“This funding would have been used to evaluate two youth addiction treatment programs, and to enhance basic addiction training for health professionals in primary care,” she said. “To cover the evaluation projects, Alberta Health instead provided almost $600,000 in direct grant funding. These projects are now underway.

“We resumed discussions with the federal government in early October and I fully anticipate that we will access any available funding moving forward. I’m also hopeful that some of the funding may be used retroactively to cover costs for the evaluation projects.”

Health Canada’s Anti-Drug Strategy Initiatives program, a merger of the former Drug Strategy Community Initiatives Fund and the Drug Treatment Funding Program, provides $22.8M in annual funding to help develop solutions to substance abuse problems.

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