IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT AUMA advocate for the Government of Alberta to adopt a provincial drug strategy which develops a strategic response to addictions, including prevention, treatment, harm reduction and community safety.
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED THAT the provincial drug strategy recognizes the uniqueness of each municipality and is flexible to reflect the individual needs of each community.
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED THAT the provincial drug strategy focus on balanced solutions that reflect the four pillars of:
Prevention and Education;
Harm Reduction; and
WHEREAS all municipalities are contending with the social consequences of addictions; and
WHEREAS there is no provincial drug strategy to support local communities with the issues resulting from the opioid crisis in particlar, and the addictions crisis in general.
The drug crisis has hit our community, province, and country hard. Overdose deaths have been climbing rapidly over the past two years; so much so, they’ve impacted a recent Statistics Canada report which shows life expectancy has stopped increasing in Canada for the first time in four decades.
According to an Alberta Health Services report, Alberta Opioid Response Surveillance Report 2018 Q4, “746 people died from an apparent accidental opioid poisoning in 2018. On average, 2 individuals die every day in Alberta as a result of an apparent accidental opioid poisoning. In the most recent quarter, 159 people died from an apparent accidental fentanyl-related poisoning, compared to 180 people in the previous quarter.”
When looking at how this crisis affects emergency department across the province, AHS found “in the third quarter of 2018, there were 2,930 emergency and urgent care visits related to harm associated with opioids and other drug use. In the previous quarter, there were 2,974 emergency and urgent care visits related to opioids and other substances of misuse. In the third quarter of 2018, emergency and urgent care visits related to harm associated with opioids and other drug use occurred among 2,460 unique individuals, of whom 13 per cent had more than one visit.”
We know that cities across the province are experiencing an increase in homelessness and this goes hand in hand with the drug crisis. According to the 7 Cities on housing and homelessness 2018 Point-in-Time Homelessness Count report, five of the seven cities counted more people experiencing homelessness in 2018 than in 2016. Lethbridge has seen more than a 150 per cent increase in homelessness since 2016. Of those who identified as homeless, more than 40 per cent indicated they were homeless due to drug and substance abuse.
We are making headway in saving lives and preventing overdose deaths with resources like safe consumption sites, but we need help to implement an exit strategy for those who are battling drug addiction. We know the issues our cities face and what needs to be done. What we need is the support to implement a solution that works. This includes a model of care that includes intox, detox, treatment where drug replacement therapies are utilized, and lastly a sustainable housing strategy that includes ongoing social supports. There are municipalities who are showing this integrated model works and they are experiencing success in battling this drug crisis.
We recognize that as individual municipalities, we cannot defeat this drug crisis alone. We urge the provincial government to develop an overall drug strategy in consultation with stakeholders so that we can serve the residents of our cities and province to the best of our abilities, in a focused and proactive direction.
The response from the Minister of Health notes that the province is “fully committed to responding to the opioid crisis and improving mental health access for Albertans.” The Minister references the $100 million commitment in Budget 2019 for a mental health and addictions strategy and the $40 million commitment for an opioid response strategy. The Minister also notes that a Mental Health and Addictions Council has been appointed to collaborate with stakeholders to identify key actions to improve access to recovery-oriented mental health and addiction services.
Budget 2020 maintained the $100 million committed in funding for mental health and addictions and the $40 million for opioid response.
Given evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing opioid-related deaths, as well as the provincial defunding of harm reduction initiatives, AUMA sent a second letter to Associate Minister Jason Luan in August 2020. No response has been received to date.