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.