EDMONTON — November 19 - 25, 2023 marks National Addictions Awareness Week, meant to be an opportunity to learn and to highlight ways to address harms related to substance use. As we mark NAAW this year, Alberta continues to set records for deaths due to drug poisoning. This week must be a time to commit to doing better.
“This year’s National Addictions Awareness Week comes at a time when Albertans are continuing to die in record numbers from drug poisonings,” said Chris Gallaway, executive director of Friends of Medicare. “This is a heartbreaking crisis. Every drug poisoning death is a policy failure. Families and communities continue to mourn their losses with the knowledge that each of these deaths would have been avoidable had they had proper access to community supports and services.”
Instead, the provincial government continues to push their so-called “recovery-oriented system of care,” while ignoring the wealth of evidence in support of harm reduction services. They have refused to change course even as Albertans are dying of drug poisoning in record numbers, and as the crisis continues to put undue burden on our entire public health care system. This summer, Treaty 6 Chiefs declared a state of emergency over opioid deaths, while Alberta’s EMS have continued to see record calls to respond to overdose-related events and frontline service providers are seeing a spike in drug poisonings — all of which could be avoided if the government listened to those on the ground and changed their ideologically unyielding approach.
“Six people die by drug poisoning in Alberta every single day. Yet the premier and the minister are still touting their failed approach and pitting harm reduction against treatment when it’s clear we need both. There is no chance of recovery if you are dead,” said Gallaway. “To see this government remain steadfast in their refusal to follow the evidence, even while so many people in our communities are suffering, just adds insult to injury. This is a public health crisis, and we must start treating it as one.”
Our governments have a responsibility to listen to the evidence, and to what communities are telling them, and urgently change course. We must let this National Addictions Awareness Week serve as a timely opportunity to take stock of the ways we are failing to protect people in this province from an increasingly toxic drug supply, and to commit to finally ensuring that everyone in this province has access to the full scope of health care services they need.
Friends of Medicare continues to encourage Albertans to support our calls for urgent action to save lives in the drug poisoning crisis.