Edmonton, AB (October 4, 2016): In early August, Dr. David Swann filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) request asking the Justice Ministry for some very basic information on opioid deaths in Alberta. For the years 2013 through 2016, we asked for the following:
- Records where an opioid drug or drugs was either the cause of death or a contributing factor.
- Records showing the opioid drug or drugs identified in each death.
- Records detailing the number of opioid related deaths where the deceased were identified as being of indigenous or First Nations descent.
Alberta Justice has refused all requests, stating:
“We are unable to provide [these] records … as the information requested would have to be created and the workload to obtain such data would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the Chief Medical Examiner.”
“I am appalled,” said Dr. David Swann. “The Premier, the Health Minister and the Associate Health Minister have stated numerous times the government is working across ministries to collect information vital to combatting this ever growing crisis. The response from Alberta Justice tells us otherwise.”
On May 12, 2016, Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne stood in the Alberta Legislature and stated:
“Our department is working very closely with our partners in Justice and with the medical examiner to ensure that we have timely and up-to-date statistics. We are also recognizing that this goes beyond just fentanyl, that we do indeed have an opioid crisis in our province, which is why our government is also moving”
On September 7th, the same Minister told CBC the province is actively collecting data, but it’s not always visible to the public.
We now know neither of these statements are true.
Dr. Swann, a physician and public health specialist, has made repeated calls for a Public Health Emergency to be declared, thereby requiring government to collect and release information vital to addiction experts, doctors, Human Services personnel, educators and frontline emergency services.
In response, Ministry representatives have compared a Public Health Emergency (PHE) to a police state, claimed there is no money to tackle the problem and, above all, stated there is no need for a PHE as the government has all the information and tools it needs.
“It is the families of those taken by this epidemic that will be most angry,” Dr. Swann continued. “They’ve listened to excuse after excuse from this ministry. Now, five years after this crisis was first recognized, bereaved family and friends have to confront the fact government is not even doing the basics to prevent further tragedy.”
“Albertans are dying at the rate of almost one per day and the Minister has failed to organize the collection and dissemination of vital data,” Dr. Swann stated. “It is time for Minister Hoffman and Premier Notley to acknowledge we are not following the most basic steps in stopping a public health crisis, and for Alberta Health to declare a Public Health Emergency.”