Dr. Swann in Question Period on Opioid Use Prevention and Mitigation – 10 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, April 10, 2017

Opioid Use Prevention and Mitigation

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On Friday Alberta Health posted the first near quarter interim report on opioids, further detailing the devastating impact this epidemic is having. An issue as serious as this should have been accompanied by a greater public response. Instead, this government was busy making funding announcements. In the first six weeks of 2017 51 Albertans died from fentanyl-related overdoses, nearly twice as many as last year, yet this government still refuses to call this an emergency. To the associate minister: what will it take for you to call this an emergency?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. The interim numbers that were released last week by the chief medical officer of health confirmed what we’ve heard clearly from front-line health care workers and community agencies, that synthetic opioids remain a deadly threat to Albertans living with substance use, their families, and first responders. That’s why we’re multiplying our efforts and will spend up to $56 million over the next year to help Albertans get the treatment that they need to reduce the harm of substance use and to raise public awareness.

Dr. Swann: This minister has repeatedly told us that the government has already got enough resources to deal with the crisis. However, Albertans with mental health and addiction illnesses are not getting the supports they need to recover. Access to treatment clinics outside of our two largest cities is a major issue. I don’t know of any clinics that are open evenings and weekends. We continue to see a piecemeal approach instead of a coherent strategy, one that involves government and nongovernment organizations, police, human services, and indigenous groups. To the minister: when will we see a comprehensive provincial opioid strategy aimed at getting ahead of this crisis?

The Speaker: The hon. associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Our response to the opioid crisis is being led by the chief medical officer of health, something that the member opposite has supported. We’re going to make sure that we have all of the tools available, but we believe fundamentally that this is a public health issue. What we will not do is subscribe to the discredited war-on-drugs approach that the Official Opposition supports. Certainly, access to opioid replacement therapy is a critical part of our government’s response, and part of the money allocated in Budget 2017 is to expand the overall capacity and geographic reach of our clinical systems.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, it’s clearly beyond the current chief medical officer.

Following the flood that ravaged southern Alberta in 2013, the previous government established the office of the chief addictions and mental health officer to provide psychological and social help to the flood victims. Later he began to focus on harm reduction issues, including fentanyl and opioids. Instead of supporting this expanded scope for the chief addictions and mental health officer, the minister eliminated the position. My question is now to the Health minister. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake. When will we see the reappointment of the chief addictions and mental health officer to lead this government’s response?

The Speaker: The associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. As I noted earlier, our response to the crisis is being led by the chief medical officer of health, who’s working very closely with experts in the field to ensure that our plan is heading in the right direction. What we are doing is that we have expanded the reach and scope of our naloxone kit program, which has expanded to more than a thousand registered sites across our province, without a prescription and at no cost to Albertans. We are expanding access to opioid dependency treatments across our province, making use of telehealth and other services to ensure . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, Associate Minister.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on School Fees in Charter Schools

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, April 5, 2017

School Fees in Charter Schools

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. When Bill 1 was announced, a government news release said, “Alberta parents will no longer have to pay school fees for instructional supplies or materials.” As it turns out, this doesn’t mean all parents. Rather, to borrow an Orwellian phrase, some parents are more equal than others. In particular, parents who have students in charter schools aren’t getting a break on school fees. This is wrong since charter schools operate entirely within the public education system. Their parents should be entitled to the same school fee reductions. To the minister: why is the Minister of Education discriminating against charter school parents?

The Speaker: The Minister of Education.

Mr. Eggen: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Certainly, by reducing school fees in An Act to Reduce School Fees, we’re not eliminating them, but we are making important inroads to reduce school fees across the province. We had to make choices around elimination of different fees in different places. It was very difficult to find the money to in fact do this, you know, but it’s worth it because we are putting money back into the pockets of parents when they need it the most. For the 61 school boards here in the province of Alberta that are publicly funded, that is exactly what we are doing.

Dr. Swann: Well, Mr. Speaker, according to the government’s Charter Schools Handbook, “A charter school is a public school that provides a basic education in a different . . . way.” In fact, many charter schools serve marginalized, low-income, and special-needs students. The Association of Public Charter Schools is quite concerned by the decision to exclude them since they are full-fledged members of the public school community. End quote. However, the NDP didn’t create charter schools, so perhaps they view them differently. To the minister: does the minister still consider charter schools public? Yes or no?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Eggen: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Charter schools are what they are. They are charter schools. The funding for the reduction of school fees, again, was not in its complete form but that, rather, we are looking to reduce school fees over time. So that is exactly what we are doing. I am very proud of the moves that we have made to reduce school fees, and I think that many Alberta families would concur.

Dr. Swann: Curious, Mr. Speaker, that the criterion was whether they were public or charter, so called, when it’s socioeconomic status that would most benefit families. It’s quite clear that the NDP government is singling out charter schools for different treatment, one that is more in line with private schools. That’s certainly what Public Interest Alberta advocates in their recent media release that urged the government also “to phase out the public funding of private schools . . . and reallocate the money to fulfill its education-related campaign promises.” Interestingly, this is exactly the scenario that Bill 1 sets up. If the minister is planning to defund charter schools, why isn’t he telling the Legislature?

Mr. Eggen: Well, Mr. Speaker, certainly, we are putting in money for enrolment and we’ve increased the enrolment funding for all schools, including charter schools and private schools, too. That is the bulk of where schools actually function. I made a choice – we all did – around reducing school fees for schools here in the province of Alberta. We have done so. I think it’s a very proud decision to make to reduce school fees. It will put money back into the pockets of Alberta families and make life easier for Albertans.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Mental Health Services for Postsecondary Students – 4 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mental Health Services for Postsecondary Students

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. My questions are for the Advanced Education minister. Many of our postsecondary institutions have critically needed mental health services on campus. This government has said that it’s committed to funding mental health but failed to increase the mental health budget, which now is shared between 26 institutions in Alberta. It chose to maintain status quo funding of $3.6 million, and the minister called this, quote, a placeholder item. He promised to say more about this in the future. With the Council of Alberta University Students in the gallery can the minister tell us when and how we’ll see postsecondary institutions with adequate, stable mental health funding?

The Speaker: The Minister of Advanced Education.

Mr. Schmidt: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I want to thank the hon. member for his good work in supporting mental health work here in the province of Alberta. Of course, on this side of the House we’re concerned about providing mental health supports for students as well, and the member, quite rightly, points out that we committed $3.6 million. We also struck an advisory panel that is looking at how we can better provide mental health supports for students on campus. Our department is in the process of reviewing those recommendations, and once we’ve reviewed those recommendations, we will decide how those recommendations will be implemented and how the money will be spent.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, when you get down to it, this amounts to about $14 per student per year, which does not stretch very far. However, not all postsecondary institutions receive the same amount. Last year, for example, the U of A received $1 million and the University of Calgary, $900,000. This is now going to be distributed between 26 institutions across the province. Can the minister tell us how the money is going to be allocated?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Schmidt: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Again the member, quite rightly, points out some of the inequities in the system that was established under the previous government, and we’re of course committed to fixing those as best we can. That was one of the tasks that the mental health panel was given, and of course we’re looking at its recommendations for how to better support the mental health programs that exist on campuses across the province so that students, whether they’re going to school in Edmonton or Lethbridge or any other communities, have access to the mental health supports they need when they need them. We’ll be working on that, and we’ll have more to say about that in the future.

Dr. Swann: Well, I would like to see a little clearer indication of when, Mr. Minister.

The 2016 national college health assessment indicated that nearly two-thirds of Canadian students have feelings of loneliness, 13 per cent have considered suicide, and 2 per cent have actually attempted suicide on our campuses. It’s getting worse. In the case of campus mental health funding, decisions are not just numbers; we’re dealing literally with life and death. Given that the mental health budget was not increased and there’s no indication of future commitments to allow planning, will the minister tell us which campus services we’re going to cut: proactive care or crisis counselling?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Schmidt: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Of course, I’m very concerned about providing mental health supports, just as the member is opposite and just as the people on this side of the House are. As I said before, we’ve committed $3.6 million to providing further mental health supports, and we’re working with our colleagues in Alberta Health to continue to identify resources that are available to provide mental health supports to students on campus. What won’t help mental health is the radical cuts that the members opposite want to make. That will only make students’ lives worse, and of course that’s not what we – we are here to support our students.

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on the Mental Health Patient Advocate – 22 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mental Health Patient Advocate

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On Monday I raised concerns about how each year the Mental Health Patient Advocate office’s work increases but the resources do not. The 2015-16 annual report yesterday revealed a significant increase in caseload, yet it was only able to initiate one formal investigation in all of last year. Same staff count as 1990. The associate minister recognized the importance of the Mental Health Patient Advocate’s role but pointed out that funding in Budget 2017 will stay the same. Why isn’t the minister backing up her words with action?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the hon. member for the question. As we discussed on Monday, the Mental Health Patient Advocate is a very important position, and we are actively recruit-ing to fill that role. We also need to make sure that we’re improving access to mental health supports for Albertans so that we can help diminish some of that caseload work by making sure that we’ve got services available to Albertans when and where they need them. I am proud to say that Budget 2017 is delivering on that promise.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, this is about funding for the mental health advocate.

The commitment to new funding to implement the mental health review is promising. Unfortunately, it doesn’t address the Mental Health Patient Advocate’s inability to do formal investigations for people calling for help. Since 1990 the number of people has tripled, the number of issues has quadrupled, and investigations continue to take more time due to complexity. Why is the govern-ment allowing this situation to continue by not properly resourcing the advocate’s office?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. As I said, we are very proud of the work that the mental health advocate has been able to do on behalf of Albertans, and we will continue to support that role and that office. We are also ensur-ing that we are able to expand access to services, working in the community and with mental health practitioners both inside and outside of Alberta Health Services as well as partners within the community. That is one way that we’re working to make life better for Albertans.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, we’re not talking about Albertans in this case. We’re talking about a mental health advocate that has no resources to do her job.

One of the most interesting items in the 2015-16 annual report is the fact that the mental health advocate’s office did not use its entire budget last year. It seems odd given the advocate’s 2015 remarks that there was a critical lack of resources. I understand that approval is required to fill vacant positions and get additional staff even if the funds are available. To the minister: did the government impose last year a hiring and spending restraint on the advocate’s office, and if so, why?

The Speaker: The associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. Our government has implemented hiring restraint measures across government, ensuring that when positions become vacant, they are being filled when they are critical to the role and to the work of government, including implementing our mandate. A huge part of our mandate is ensuring that Albertans have access to the mental health supports that they need. It is a reality that recruitment takes time and that for these important positions we want to make sure that we are filling them with the right person so that we are able to help make life better for Albertans.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Mental Health Patient Advocate – 20 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, March 20, 2017

Mental Health Patient Advocate

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Mental Health Patient Advocate’s office was established in 1995 to protect patients’ rights and improve the mental health system. Since 1990 the advocate’s work has increased exponentially, but the resources have not. In fact, it went from being an independent office with its own budget to recently being rolled into the Alberta Health Advocate’s office and sharing its funds. To the Minister of Health: if the government truly values mental health and rejects stigma and protects patients’ rights, why does it keep shortchanging the mental health advocate’s office?

The Speaker: The Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. I look forward to having an opportunity to engage in full budget discussions. One of the things that I’m so proud to make sure that everyone knows is that we’ve more than tripled the investment to make sure that addictions and mental health are addressed properly as we move forward. I’m incredibly proud of that. It’s my understanding that at a specific point in time following the floods in southern Alberta that office was created, but there have been considerations of how best to serve the people, and I look forward to having opportunities to continue that dialogue with hon. members.

The Speaker: First supplemental.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In her previous annual report the advocate said:

The past year posed challenges to fulfill our legislative mandate in a timely manner . . . largely due to the loss of a position along with the Government . . . restraint measures. It had a direct impact on the number of Albertans we served and the comprehensive-ness of our investigations. As a result, the office was unable to conduct a single formal investigation of a patient complaint. To the minister: do you not see that chronic underfunding of this important office is causing it to fail to live up to its mandate?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. Just to follow up on a piece of the earlier question, funding for the mental health advocate in Budget 2017 is consistent with last year. In fact, the advocate has been appointed on an interim basis during the recruitment process for a new person to fill that role. Our government is very committed to ensuring that Albertans are able to access the mental health supports that they need, regardless of where they live in our province. To that end, we’ve committed more than $5.6 million in new operating funds towards implementing the recommendations of the mental health review in addition to the funding that has been included to address the substance use crisis in our province.

 

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the truth is that the mental health advocate speaks for mental health patients who are not happy with the way that the system is working. Mergers seem to be the rage these days. Now even the NDP is getting into the act. When Carol Robertson Baker finished her term as mental health advocate, the government didn’t replace her; instead, the Minister of Health has simply merged the mental health and the Health Advocate, as I indicated. Apparently the government has no intention of empowering this office, which is odd given the increased complex-ity and the increased volume of cases we are now dealing with, especially with the opiate crisis. Clearly, the advocate needs independence and an increased budget . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to reiterate my answer from the last question. Currently the mental health advocate role is being combined with the Health Advocate on an interim basis. We are in the process of an open recruiting process, and we look forward to hiring a new person for that role. Frankly, we know that that is an important role within the system, and we continue to look for other ways that we can expand access to all Albertans. You know what? The only way that we can get there is by continuing to work together to increase funding for mental health.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Gay-straight Alliances in Schools – 14 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Gay-straight Alliances in Schools

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. In 2014 the Alberta Liberals led the province into the modern era by introducing legislation to make gay-straight alliances mandatory in any school where students request them. I’m proud to say that this is now the law. In recognition of this fact the Education minister wrote an open letter to Alberta students telling them: “You have rights that your schools will respect” and “I’m with you one hundred per cent.” Now it appears that not all schools are respecting these rights. Is the Minister of Education still with these students one hundred per cent?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Education.

Mr. Eggen: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thanks very much for the question. Every student in Alberta deserves a caring and respectful and safe school in which to learn. We know that experiencing bullying can stress students, and then people don’t do well in school and otherwise. We’ve been working with each of the school boards across the province to build policy to ensure that they are compliant with the law. The right to create a club, a GSA or a QSA, is the law here in the province of Alberta, and we work with individual schools and school boards to ensure compliance.

Dr. Swann: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister cited, quote, big cultural changes and certain religious beliefs as reasons why establishing GSAs in certain schools was complicated. Just yesterday he called some of the schools’ attempts at creating GSA policies, quote, a bit clunky. End quote. I’m not sure what is complicated about these GSAs. It should be recognized that they also save lives, and the minister should be doing everything in his power to support them. So why isn’t he? Why can’t you declunkify this system?

Mr. Eggen: Thank you again for the question. Mr. Speaker, certainly, we are working diligently with all of our 61 school boards and all schools in the province of Alberta to build policy that’s in compliance with the law. You know, we have seen the evolution of change in the province here over the last couple of years and before with the work on Bill 10 to create a safe and caring environment for students. We have seen progress, but I won’t say that we have solved the issue thus far. As per declunkifying, I’m certainly looking for more than just that. We’re looking for a way by which . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, last year the Minister of Education ordered an investigation into schools refusing to comply with the GSA law. Apparently, the report revealed something so troubling that the minister now appears to be backtracking on his commit-ment and refusing to tell us why. Alberta students, parents, and school boards need clarity from the minister on this issue, not excuses. Do Albertans and Alberta students still have the legal right to form GSAs in all schools, or don’t they?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Eggen: Yes. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The law is very clear that students do have the right to create clubs in their schools and that if they choose to name it a GSA or a QSA, they are certainly within the law to do so. In regard to a particular school that I did use an inquiry process on, the report will be out very soon. Yes, it is complicated, but, you know, it’s worth it every step of the way to ensure that we do have safe and caring environments for every single student. It’s not just students that are in jeopardy that benefit, but all Albertans benefit from the equality and social justice that this implies.

 


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Opioid Use – 8 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Opioid Use

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. A briefing note I obtained from the Calgary Police Service shows the further impact that opioids, including fentanyl, are having on policing resources in the community. In 2016 the Calgary Police Service responded to 223 overdose calls, including 111 fentanyl-related charges. These numbers have risen dramatically every year for the last five years. There’s also been a corresponding spike in property crime driven by addiction. To the Minister of Justice: if the government has all the resources it needs, why do these numbers keep going up?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Ganley: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. We know that fentanyl and addictions are best attacked on a health front by ensuring that we have the necessary treatments, and that is why our Associate Minister of Health has been moving so quickly to ensure that we have treatment beds available, that we have replacement therapies available, that we have naloxone available. I’m in regular contact with the Calgary police and every other police service. They support the approach that we are taking, and we will move forward together.

Dr. Swann: That’s a bit of a stretch given the chief of police’s comments in the last month.

The danger of falling victim to an opioid overdose doesn’t end once people are arrested. A letter I received from the Justice minister just last month admits an unprecedented 10 Albertans died in custody last year. Two of the deaths have been confirmed to be the result of overdoses; six more await the final ME, medical examiner, report. There were also 27 near deaths – 27 – that were prevented by emergency intervention in remand and corrections. To the minister: how are you investigating these deaths, what are the results, and what actions are you taking to prevent this?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Ganley: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. The safety of our inmates and our correctional workers is of the utmost priority in the correctional division. We know that fentanyl has a much more deadly effect than other drugs. We do know that that can cause some challenges. I think that we should await the actual statistics before we draw any conclusions on that, but corrections officers take steps every day, including searches, intelligence, and we’re even investigating body scanners, to ensure that our inmates are as safe as we can make them.

The Speaker: Second supplemental.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The opioid crisis is pervasive, affecting urban, rural, First Nations, and all economic classes, and it crosses all government jurisdictions. Beyond Health it includes human services, Education, Justice, and First Nations. We need a clear, comprehensive, evidence-based strategy. So far the govern-ment has failed to deliver this. To the Premier: when will a comprehensive, government-wide strategy for the opioid crisis be tabled in the Legislature?

The Speaker: The Deputy Premier.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for his question. My door continues to be open, and we’ve been pleased to receive some of his feedback as well as the feedback of others throughout the province, whether it’s with regard to Health, Justice, human services, and so on. We continue to work on pulling all of those pieces together. The member is absolutely right that more can and must be done. I’m confident that the associate minister is taking those recommendations into consideration, and we’ll be happy to update this House in a timely fashion as we continue to move forward.

 


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Opioid Use – 7 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Opioid Use

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday we debated the increasing number of deaths each year for the past five years caused by opioids. The government calls it everything from an epidemic to a crisis, but it refuses to call it an emergency. The definition of an emergency in the Emergency Management Act is, quote, an event that requires prompt co-ordination of action to protect the health of people and limit damage to property. End quote. Health and crime statistics say that this is an emergency. To the Premier: why is the government the only one who won’t call this an emergency?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. I was really pleased to be part of the discussion in our House yesterday as we talked about some new ideas. You know, I was certainly pleased to hear from most of the opposition their support for supervised consumption services, which are viewed as leading best practices for how we can help stem the tide of deaths from the opioid crisis. I agree with the member opposite that we need to be doing more and continuing this hard work that we’ve started to protect Albertans and to make sure the supports are in place. We’re going to do that no matter what.

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, two of the courageous survivors of this crisis, Petra Schultz and Rosalind Davis, said that this government’s refusal to act on the call for an emergency is, quote, unacceptable and the inadequate response perpetuates the stigma about opioid-related deaths. End quote. The government insists that a state of emergency isn’t appropriate in this situation. Clearly, the govern-ment can do more to help and mobilize resources without kicking down the doors. If the government has all the resources it needs, why is the opioid crisis continuing to worsen? Why are you failing?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. When I hear people call for a public health emergency, I hear them wanting to know that their government understands that this is a serious issue, a top priority, and that we are taking action. Is there more to do? Absolutely, and it is top of mind for this government. Earlier today I met with Marliss Taylor of Streetworks and Jennifer Vanderschaeghe of Turning Point in Red Deer to discuss practical, on-the-ground solutions that we can do to help save Albertans’ lives, ways that we can support front-line workers who are working to support people who use substances day in and day out so that we can help to stem this tide.

The Speaker: Thank you.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the reason we’re failing is that the government’s response to this emergency has been piecemeal at best. During the emergency debate it touted more incremental, one-off measures. Harm reduction is good; it is not enough. The govern-ment has provided no comprehensive plan. It is unwilling to admit that the opioid crisis has become an emergency. Focused leadership is what is lacking. The NDP campaigned on leadership for what matters. Well, certainly, these nearly 500 lost lives last year matter. How many deaths will it take before you call it an emergency?

The Speaker: The associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m going to disagree with the member’s categorization of our approach as piecemeal. We have moved forward on harm reduction by expanding access to naloxone for people who need it. Yes, definition of a Band-Aid. It’s going to save a life when it’s needed. That is one part of our plan. We’ve been working on opioid dependency treatments, Suboxone and methadone, which are top-of-the-line clinical evidence for helping people who are living with opioid addictions. That is the treatment that is needed, and we are working to expand access to that treatment.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Opioid Addiction Treatment and Death Reporting

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Opioid Addiction Treatment and Death Reporting  

Dr. Swann: Bah. Humbug. Mr. Speaker, deaths from opiates are still increasing in year 4 of the most serious public health crisis in memory. Today I talked with a grieving mother who lost her daughter, presumably from a fentanyl overdose, in July. We still don’t know. Tragically, her daughter had been succeeding in a drug rehab facility right up until the point she was thrown out before her program was ended, allegedly because she also had bulimia, which the facility couldn’t accommodate. This girl, a college student without meaningful family input, was literally dropped off at a gas station to be picked up. Does the Premier feel that we are doing enough, that she is doing enough to create a sense of urgency . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. The hon. Premier.

Ms Notley: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to the member for the question. As we’ve often discussed – but let me reaffirm – the rise of elicit opiates, including fentanyl and the more powerful carfentanyl, has created a public health crisis here in Alberta and, quite frankly, across the country. Our hearts go out to the parents, the spouses, the brothers, the sisters, and the children who have lost loved ones. This government believes in harm reduction, and we believe in offering Alberta supports, not just stigma. So we are working carefully on a number of different avenues to improve the way that, as government, we can respond to this crisis, and our members will be . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. Premier. First supplemental.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Given that opioid death rates in Alberta now exceed one per day – public health doctors estimate that we have approximately 40,000 to 50,000 addicts in Alberta – and given that together Calgary, Edmonton, and Cardston, the main Alberta Health Services clinics, manage only 2,500 patients a year and given that four- to six-week wait times are now the norm in our treatment centres and given that many of Alberta Health Services’ clinics close at 3 o’clock every day, does the Premier feel that the urgency of this matter is being addressed in Alberta?

The Speaker: The hon. Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. I have to say that I really do appreciate the member’s compassion and advocacy on this issue. Our government is working very diligently to expand access to opioid replacement therapies, which are known as best practice, in order to address opioid misuse disorders. He listed off the number of clinics that are being operated by AHS. We’re working with partners in the private clinics as well as working with doctors in the primary care setting so that stabilized patients in ODT centres can then be transferred back to the community for maintenance with their doctor.

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister. Second supplemental.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, given that B.C. is managing to report on opiate deaths, emergency room visits for opiate conditions, naloxone survivors, and wait times for therapy every month but given that Alberta reports every three to three and a half months, with some families not receiving reports on their dead loved one for eight to nine months, can the Premier tell us: is she going to direct the Justice minister and the Health minister to provide more timely information on these deaths?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. Certainly, in B.C. they have a different set-up than we do here in Alberta. Here in Alberta we are having the information around emergency room visits reported to the chief medical officer of health, who is leading our government’s response to this very important crisis. Additionally, the reporting information that we’re getting from the Chief Medical Examiner is being reported back on a continual basis to the chief medical officer of health. They’re working quite closely. I look forward to talking more in depth with the member in our meeting later this week.

 


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Chronic Wasting Disease – 8 December 2016

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, December 8, 2016

Chronic Wasting Disease

Dr. Swann: I’m shifting topics to the Alberta prion institute, that just received $11 million from Genome Canada to trace chronic wasting disease in deer, elk, and moose in Alberta. We need to act now to prevent a catastrophe not only in wildlife but in our agri-culture community. CWD is a fatal brain disease like mad cow disease. It’s spreading across western Canada since its introduction in game farms, and 15 years ago, the experts said that BSE, mad cow disease, would never cross species. Now, several hundred people have died from BSE.

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. [interjection] Your time is allocated, hon. member. Is there a minister who would like to announce . . . [interjection] Hon. member, your time is up. Please proceed, hon. minister.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the very important question. You know, as a government we absolutely recognize the importance of keeping our livestock – our tame livestock, our domestic livestock, wild livestock – safe from any form of disease. It’s important for biosecurity reasons, for our markets, for everything. We’re continuing to work with the industry – the farming industry, the wildland farming industry, other livestock industries right across the province – on all our biosecurity issues and continue to be working with the member with the question as well on making sure we can do all we can. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann: It’s been a decade since I started raising these issues. When will you ban the movement of all potentially wasting-disease-infected carcasses, live animals, products, equipment, or other sources of infectious materials across this province?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and the member for the question. The odd time that, you know, those biosecurity issues do come up in the province, the department takes it very seriously and reacts very quickly. Those operations do happen not that often, but we do take action on it. Continuing to work with the member, we welcome the member’s input in going forward to do much more if we could.

Dr. Swann: No action. No action in 10 years. Given there’s now evidence that thousands of citizens are unknowingly consuming infected animals, including First Nations, will the minister mandate and implement now convenient, cost-free testing of all animals harvested in the CWD-affected areas?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. The member I think does realize that there is testing going on. It is true that we have over the past few years, you know, picked up a couple of incidents when this has happened. It isn’t the doomsday scenario that he’s trying to make us believe. Incidents do happen. We have control of it. We continue with those controls. I have all the confidence in our public servants to do what they do best, and that is to make sure that we’re all safe. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.