December 6, 2016 7:00 pm

Alberta opioid crisis: Liberal leader says medical examiner can’t keep up

Alberta Liberal party interim leader David Swann.

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Alberta’s interim Liberal leader is calling on the government to ramp up funding for the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office to provide more timely and effective reporting on the province’s rapidly-expanding opioid crisis.

“Reporting every three to three-and-a-half months on numbers isn’t enough,” David Swann said Tuesday. “It doesn’t show the level of urgency and frontline support that is needed.

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“People need to know where we’re winning, where we’re losing, what are the numbers? Show us the numbers that tell us whether we’re losing control or gaining control. Every four weeks we should know.”

Swann’s comments came a day after the government updated its response to the increased use of ultra-powerful street drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil. On Monday, the government said 15 fatal drug overdoses have been linked to carfentanil in Alberta and that 14 of those occurred between September and the end of November.

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

Watch below: The provincial government has announced a plan to battle Alberta’s ongoing opioid crisis. Doug Vaessen has details.

Carfentanil is described as heroin laced with elephant tranquilizers and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. The new synthetic drug has been described as a weapons-grade chemical and according to The Associated Press, is suspected in hundreds of drug overdoses in the U.S. and Canada.

“We’re obviously extremely concerned,” Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said about the drug Tuesday.

READ MORE: What is carfentanil? Deadly street drug is causing mass overdoses in the US

The government says it is responding to the growing dilemma by focusing on harm reduction and improving the collecting and publishing of information about opioid drug use.

“I think that our data continues to indicate, as with most opioids, it’s the case that the best path forward is to make sure that people have available to them treatment to make sure that we’re getting naloxone out so that we can prevent any overdoses,” Ganley said. “But obviously seeing this increase in carfentanil deaths is quite a concern. ”

“I say the Chief Medical Examiner’s Officer is not resourced well enough to keep up with this and therefore not able to report in a timely way and not able to help the people on the frontlines understand what’s working, what’s not working and how are we winning the battle or not?” Swann charged.

Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne said carfentanil is particularly concerning to the province because its presence in Alberta is relatively new.

“We are still monitoring the issue but what we do know so far is that carfentanil may need more doses of naloxone in order to have the same effect as with regular fentanyl,” she said. “So we’re continuing to monitor the situation and we’ll make adjustments as necessary.

“Street drugs are not safe right now,” Payne added. “It’s hard to know what’s in there and if you are using drugs, make sure that you’re not using alone, make sure you have access to a naloxone kit and if you’re even considering seeking treatment, certainly explore that option.”

READ MORE: Alberta considers radical new approach to battling fentanyl

Alberta Health says 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.

-with files from Erika Tucker

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