Government must act to save lives amid record drug poisoning deaths

Government must act to save lives amid record drug poisoning deaths

Latest overdose numbers show Alberta’s approach to the drug poisoning crisis is failing

In Alberta’s recent provincial election, the UCP campaigned on the success of their so-called “recovery-oriented” approach to the drug poisoning crisis, but it wasn’t until after the campaign was over that the government finally released the long-awaited substance use surveillance data,  revealing record-breaking overdose fatality rates in Alberta this spring.

“The situation in Alberta is bleak, and getting bleaker,” said Chris Gallaway, executive director of Friends of Medicare. “Six people dying from an overdose in this province every single day isn’t a success. This is an unmitigated crisis and we need the new Minister to start treating it like one. We need a government that can recognize the failure of the ‘Alberta Model’ for what it is, and take the urgently-needed action to prevent further tragedy.”

While the government continues to insist that their approach is succeeding, they have consistently refused to show data to support that claim. The provincial government has spent millions of dollars funding mainly private, for-profit facilities, with absolutely no accountability to the public. A joint letter penned by Friends of Medicare and more than 30 provincial and national organizations, requesting that Alberta’s then-Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions provide data transparency on addiction treatment services remains unanswered more than a year later.

“The government continues to deploy divisive, stigmatizing language that tries to paint a false dichotomy between addiction treatment programs or harm reduction, when the truth is we need more of both and are failing at both,” said Gallaway. “We continually hear from Albertans and families who are struggling to access existing mental health or addiction services. While at the same time, the government continues to attack harm reduction services that would keep people alive in the immediate term. The government needs to remember that there can be no recovery if you’re dead.”

This crisis continues to impact our whole public health care system, with added pressure on our EMS and hospital systems especially. This month, EMS has seen near record calls to respond to overdose-related events and frontline service providers are seeing a spike in drug poisonings happening around them, each of which could have been avoided if we had the necessary community and harm reduction supports. In spite of all this, requests from front-line organizations and health care workers to meet with previous Ministers were declined.

“This crisis is adding substantial pressure to our whole public health care system while it’s already struggling. It’s time for this government to start actually listening to front-line organizations and health care workers, and to respond to this crisis with an evidence-based public health approach,” concluded Gallaway. 

Friends of Medicare continues to encourage Albertans to support our calls for urgent action to save lives in the drug poisoning crisis.

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