EDMONTON – The Alberta government is taking the war on fentanyl abuse to the next level by exploring a plan to set up safe, supervised sites for opioid use.
Brandy Payne, Alberta’s associate minister of health, says an Edmonton agency is to receive a $230,000 grant to make an application to the federal government for an exemption under drug laws so that a safe site can be set up.
Another $500,000 in grants is to go to six other Alberta communities with existing needle exchange programs to assess the need for safe opioid consumption sites.
“By investing in harm-reduction programs, the government is taking action to save lives and support people struggling with addictions,” Payne told a news conference Thursday.
Dr. Karen Grimsrud, Alberta’s chief medical health officer, said such sites are growing across Canada.
“In addition to establishing successful supervised consumption sites in Vancouver, there are many other communities in the country who are in varying stages of their exploration of these harm-reduction services,” said Grimsrud.
The $230,000 grant is to go to an agency known as Access to Medically Supervised Injections Services Edmonton.
Agency head Shelley Williams said feedback gathered from the community and stakeholders will be used to make the application for the exemption.
“There’s lots of work to be completed prior to any doors being opened,” said Williams.
People usually either inject fentanyl or snort ground-up pills that contain the drug.
Dr. Hakique Virani, an expert in public health and preventative medicine at the University of Alberta, applauds the government for this step.
He calls the support of supervised injection/consumption sites “major.”
However, declaring a public health emergency in response to the fentanyl is still a step he’d like to see Alberta take.
The province has already taken a number of steps to prevent opioid overdose deaths, including spending $3 million for new treatment spaces and quadrupling the number of available naloxone kits to 13,000.
The kits are distributed through registered sites, including pharmacies, and can provide immediate treatment in overdose cases.
Payne also announced Thursday that the province is expanding access to opioid replacement therapy and working with doctors to improve prescription drug monitoring.
So far this year, 193 Albertans have died due to apparent drug overdoses related to fentanyl compared with 205 deaths during the same period last year.
In addition to fentanyl, the province is also combating the recent appearance of the even deadlier opioid carfentanil.
Earlier this month, Grimsrud announced that two recent deaths of Alberta men were tied to the drug.
Carfentanil is considered 100 times more toxic than fentanyl and about 10,000 times more toxic than morphine. Its medical use is to sedate large animals such as elephants.
With files from Global News