June 26, 2018 10:46 am
Updated: June 26, 2018 10:28 pm

Alberta child advocate releases info about 12 youth opioid-linked deaths

WATCH ABOVE: Young people who are addicted to opioids are not getting the help they need, and many are dying. That's according to the Child and Youth Advocate who investigated 12 deaths. As Kendra Slugoski reports, he's calling on the province to do more.

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The province has released its latest investigative review on the opioid-related deaths of 12 young people.

Del Graff, the provincial Child and Youth Advocate, provided details about the review of the deaths that happened between October 2015 and September 2017.

All 12 individuals were receiving child-intervention services at the time of their deaths or had received services within two years of their passing, the advocate said.

READ MORE: Albertans continue to die in large numbers from fentanyl use

“Although this report is about 12 young people collectively, it is important to remember them as individuals and that their deaths were a loss to their families and communities,” Graff said.

“It is imperative that the government of Alberta take quick action on the recommendations contained within this report so that fewer lives are lost.”

READ MORE: Drug ‘dementors’ stalk fentanyl addicts in Alberta amid western crisis

The province said the review provides recommendations to the government and brings attention to the need for a youth-specific response to the opioid crisis because the current strategies and initiatives do not address the needs of young people.

The child and youth advocate has released five recommendations:

  1. Alberta Education and local schools provide health promotion and substance-use education
  2. Child-serving ministries receive appropriate substance-use intervention training
  3. Alberta Health Services strengthen substance-use-related interventions for young people
  4. AHS youth addictions and mental-health programs include families and friends
  5. Ministry of Health review Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act, so services meet needs of young people and families

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Speaking to reporters after the report was released on Tuesday, Education Minister David Eggen indicated that he plans to act on its recommendations and that while it’s unlikely he’ll have time to implement changes in time for fall, he hopes to have them in place as quickly as possible.

“We want to work fast to make sure that we not just accept but act on the recommendations of this report today and consider the tragic consequences of ignorance around opioid use,” he said. “I think that it’s important for us to accelerate that.

“The safety of students are paramount and the key to fighting ignorance around these things is education, and so I’m accepting the recommendation of this report today,” Eggen added.

“I will look at an expeditious execution of that recommendation.”

“We don’t believe synthetic drugs are going to decrease in terms of their proliferation and access, so we really believe what we’re recommending can make a difference for young people in our province,” Graff said.

The advocate’s review showed six of the 12 youth had spent time in jail, six had been confined in a protective safe house, nine had co-occurring mental health or cognitive disabilities and 10 had been hospitalized for a drug-related overdose or psychosis.

LISTEN BELOW: 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen speaks with Del Graff

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Dr. Susan Christenson said youth forced into detox are not getting the help and services they need, and they are often in a worse situation after the confinement period ends.

“If they are being detoxed and if it’s for one to two weeks or something like that, their mortality after they leave this program would be higher than when they entered because the tolerance in their brain changes after just a few weeks of not having their opioid,” Christenson said.

READ MORE: Alberta Health report suggests number of fentanyl overdose deaths still high

An Alberta Health report released on June 1 showed the number of opioid-related deaths continues to climb in the province. The report suggested 158 people died from apparent accidental fentanyl-related opioid overdoses during the first three months of 2018.

In 2017, data shows 733 Albertans died from the same cause, with 183 losing their lives during the final three months of last year.

On Tuesday afternoon, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman issued a statement about Graff’s review. You can read the statement in its entirety below.

“It is heartbreaking to hear these stories of young lives cut tragically short by opioids. Our government takes this extremely seriously and we will continue taking action to protect children, youth and families from the opioid crisis.

“I met with the (child and youth) advocate (OCYA) yesterday to discuss these important recommendations and look forward to continuing to work with the OCYA to ensure we are doing everything we can to be there for vulnerable children and families who need support to address substance use.

“While we take the time to carefully review these recommendations, our government will continue to work across ministries, support the work of the minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission, and engage partners such as Alberta Health Service and our schools to strengthen supports for children youth and families.”

–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich

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