Alberta’s opposition parties say the government is losing the battle against opioids like fentanyl and must declare a public health emergency.
Members of all four opposition parties say the declaration would free up resources and coordinate the work of the multiple agencies involved.
But Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne says calling a public health emergency won’t help.
She says the province already has the authority to make the necessary administrative changes to fight the rise in opioid addictions.
And she says the province is negotiating with the federal government for a share of the $65 million recently announced to help provinces to fight the drug — a painkiller for terminally ill cancer patients and 100 times more powerful than heroin.
The province says 343 people died from apparent fentanyl overdoses last year — a 25 per cent increase from 257 deaths in 2015.
Watch below: Alberta’s four opposition parties came together Monday to call on the province to do more when it comes to the opioid crisis.
Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin has said the number of deaths from opioid-related overdoses doesn’t come close to those from homicides or traffic fatalities.
He has said too much energy has been wasted arguing whether to call a public health emergency rather than coming up with a broader strategy to fight what he has called a crisis.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Vancouver last week to discuss the issue and called it a crisis across Canada. The illicit drug overdose crisis claimed 922 lives in British Columbia last year.
In December, the Alberta government announced a provincial response to the opioid epidemic after carfentanil, which is described as being 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, was said to be responsible for 14 deaths in three months in the province.
The province said it was focusing on harm reduction in its provincial response to the crisis, highlighting the Alberta Office of the Chief Medical Examiner as one of only a “very small number toxicology laboratories in Canada that is able to positively identify carfentanil in human blood.”
Watch below: An opioid crisis that has taken the lives of hundreds of people over the last year took centre stage at the Alberta legislature on Monday. As Tom Vernon reports, the opposition was granted an emergency debate on the issue.
Alberta Health said it’s working with experts, community groups, parent advocates, law enforcement and the medical community to focus on four areas:
- improving the collection and publishing of data to better target interventions,
- expanding access to opioid replacement therapy,
- funding community agencies to assess the need for supervised consumption services, and
- promoting appropriate opioid prescribing and implementing new tools to prevent prescription drug misuse, in partnership with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.
The province has invested $3 million over three years for an opioid dependency treatment (ODT) expansion project and $240,000 in “proceeds of crime” grants has been given to police and community partners to raise awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and “other illicit drugs.”
Alberta Health Services predicted there may be as many as 400 deaths in Alberta in 2017 due to opioid use.
With files from Slav Kornik, Global News