Alberta is hiring two more medical examiners for a total of 10 to reduce caseloads and deal with emerging issues such as fentanyl overdoses.
Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said Wednesday it’s part of a $1-million investment in the office.
“Funding two more positions will allow the office to meet the demands of a growing population along with the additional work of providing data regarding opioid-related deaths that our government has requested,” Ganley told a news conference at the office of chief medical examiner Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim.
Brooks-Lim said she plans to put one of the new positions in Calgary and one in Edmonton.
She said her office investigates 20,000 deaths a year and conducts 4,000 autopsies.
The goal, she said, is to balance workload with increasing demands that include a ruling last year that allows criminal charges to be stayed if a case does not go to trial in an acceptable time frame.
“My office is very acutely aware of the Supreme Court Jordan decision and we are prioritizing cases that may go to trial, such as homicides and other high-profile cases.”
On Tuesday, the province announced that 343 Albertans died in overdoses from opioids such as fentanyl in 2016. That is up 25 per cent from 257 cases the previous year.
The province also plans to hire a research officer to manage policy.
Ganley announced the province has completed more than $20 million in renovations to the Edmonton medical examiner’s office.
The upgrades include a larger toxicology lab and improved bio-containment equipment.