The government of Alberta is looking to create guidelines on how to remediate sites contaminated with fentanyl, and it’s believed to be the first jurisdiction in Canada to do so, according to provincial health officials.
Alberta Health has posted a request for proposals (RFP) for a contractor to create guidelines to be used by companies and organizations cleaning up drug labs, buildings where drugs are stored and locations where drugs are consumed.
“Right now, each organization or individual that is cleaning up a fentanyl contaminated site would be reviewing the evidence and coming up with their own process for dealing with that,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, acting deputy chief medical officer of health.
“The current practice means that each organization or company that’s dealing with this process has to do their own work and research, which is a fairly significant burden for them, and also creates different approaches to this. This guideline will help make sure there is a standardized process that everyone can follow.”
Alberta is experiencing an opioid crisis, though fentanyl deaths rose at a slower rate in 2018 than the year prior.
Figures from Alberta Health in July show that there were 228 overdose deaths from Jan. 1 through to early May; if the rate remains steady, that would mean approximately 660 deaths by the end of the year. There were 583 deaths in 2017 and 368 the year before that.
The RFP states Alberta is seeing an increase in the number of sites that are contaminated by fentanyl and the need to clean up these sites “is relatively new in Alberta and in Canada.”
“To date, there are no overarching guidance documents from any North American jurisdiction regarding fentanyl-related remediation,” the document states.
“The lack of standardized guidance can result in confusion and conflicting opinions. Current ad hoc approaches to remediating sites contaminated by fentanyl vary widely and may be producing inconsistent results.”
Hinshaw said Alberta is the only jurisdiction in the country working on fentanyl remediation guidelines, and brushed off concerns there could be inconsistency if other provinces develop their own.
“We will be happy to share the results of this work once it’s complete with other jurisdictions that are interested in moving in this same direction. Because there is quite good collaboration nationally, I’m not concerned this will create inconsistency,” she said.
Hinshaw said she is not aware of any cases in the province where remediation has been insufficient but said the need for guidelines is timely.
“The minister’s opioid emergency response commission made a recommendation that we produce guidelines that would be a reference point for anyone dealing with a fentanyl contaminated site. We’re acting on that recommendation,” she said.
Although the guidelines would fall outside of the enforcement process, Hinshaw said she expects companies will follow them.
“I have to say, why anyone would choose to not follow guidelines once they’re in place and made public – these will be [a] rigorous, evidence-based process that’s developed – I can’t say it would be wise to not follow these guidelines,” she said.
There is no timeline on when the guidelines will be rolled out; Hinshaw said that will depend on the RFP process.
— With files from Canadian Press