Alberta accepts call from experts to bolster programs to reduce opioid deaths

John Cotter, The Canadian Press
November 06, 2017
Written by John Cotter, The Canadian Press
EDMONTON – Opioid experts are recommending Alberta bolster programs that aim to reduce the growing number of people who are dying from drug overdoses.

Alberta's Opioid Emergency Response Commission says the government should expand the distribution of naloxone kits, a medication that can quickly reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids such as fentanyl, heroin, methadone and morphine.

"Far too many Albertans are continuing to die from overdoses every day," Dr. Elaine Hyshka, co-chair of the group said. "More Albertans will die this year from opioid overdoses than ever before. This is a clear public-health crisis."

As of mid-August, Alberta reported 315 fentanyl-related overdose deaths, compared to 368 for all of 2016.

The province says there were 586 suspected opioid-related deaths in the province last year.

Alberta's "Take-Home" naloxone program is aimed at people at risk of having or witnessing an overdose. Under the program, businesses such as bars and nightclubs can get naloxone kits.

Earlier this year, the province changed the rules so Albertans no longer need a prescription to get free naloxone.

Another recommendation calls on Alberta to do more to help Indigenous communities, which the commission said are being disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis. It calls for programs to be aimed at Aboriginal people who live on reserves, off reserves and in Metis settlements.

The commission said the province should ask for proposals from Indigenous communities on how to best deliver programs in culturally relevant ways.

"The commission respectfully suggests that people with lived experience are engaged in the development and implementation of these proposals."

Last month, Health Canada approved safe injection sites in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge. The commission recommends that the province should fund these sites without any budget restrictions.

The commission expects to hear from community groups later this month about the idea of setting up safe consumption sites in Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie and Edson.

There are also recommendations for the government to develop plans to ensure the safe consumption sites and the naloxone program are being delivered effectively and that physicians and other health-care professionals improve how they treat overdose cases, including learning more about the problem.

Alberta Health said it has accepted all of the 12 recommendations.

A department official said the cost is still to be worked out, but noted the government has earmarked $30 million to be spent this year on programs recommended by the commission.

All of the recommendations are expected to be implemented before the end of March.
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