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‘We are in the middle of a crisis’: fentanyl focus of two-day Calgary conference

Conference aims to fight fentanyl
WATCH ABOVE: At best they're keeping it at bay. That admission from the Alberta's justice minister regarding the war on the deadly surge of fentanyl. Law enforcement, politicians and health care agencies are gathering at a 2 day conference in Calgary. Jill Croteau reports.

Health experts and police officers from across the country gathered in Calgary on Monday to attend a two-day conference discussing the ongoing fentanyl crisis.

Fentanyl Conference 2016, titled An Alberta Perspective: What we Know Now, will discuss everything from the toxicology and effects of fentanyl to public prosecution strategies.

READ MORE: Fentanyl 101 – The facts and dangers

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, MLA for Calgary-West Mike Ellis and Calgary Police Service Deputy Chief Trevor Daroux provided opening remarks.

In his speech, Ellis, a member of the Progressive Conservatives, called on the NDP government to declare a public state of emergency and create a collaborative, all-party Opioid Abuse Advisory Committee.

“Fentanyl-related deaths in Alberta continue to climb and that’s a great concern,” Ellis said. “We are in the middle of a crisis and it should be treated as such.”

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“When it comes to overdose deaths, this transcends political party lines. We all need to work together to find new and innovative approaches to dealing with the growing trend of opioid abuse.”

Ganley said declaring a public health emergency gives the government certain powers, none of which would assist them currently.

“[Those powers] do give the government significant ability to violate civil liberties – so we think it’s important that we use those powers, which have significant impacts on Albertans, only in cases where they would be helpful to us.”

“In this case, it’s much more helpful, I think, to continue assuring that we can address that demand side – in addition to that supply side.”

READ MORE: Fentanyl laced with cocaine confirmed in Ottawa, amid growing ‘crisis’ in Ontario

Ganley said the drug continues to present a “significant danger to the people of Alberta,” with 153 deaths associated with fentanyl in the province in the first six months of 2016, compared with 139 over the same period last year.

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In total, there were 274 deaths associated with fentanyl in Alberta in 2015, according to Alberta Health Services.

Ganley indicated her ministry was focusing on four key areas: harm reduction, public education, improving access to treatment and law enforcement.

READ MORE: Fentanyl in Canada will get worse before it gets better: RCMP report

Members of the Calgary and Edmonton Police Service will also be speaking at the two-day event, as well as first responders and members of the Canadian Border Services Agency.

Each day of the conference will wrap up with a powder re-processing lab demonstration using lab equipment seized during police investigations.

The conference will move to Edmonton on Thursday for an additional two days.