Dr. Swann Member Statement on Opioid Use – 25 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, May 25, 2017.

Member Statement – Opioid Use

The opioid death crisis is unprecedented, ripping apart families of all socioeconomic groups, including First Nations. The continual and dramatic increases in opioid deaths since 2013 are extremely saddening given that they are all preventable. While we see increased investment, it’s not clear that mental health experts are leading, what the overall strategy is, or how current efforts are being evaluated since there has been no public analysis and reporting. Last year we had 363 deaths due to fentanyl. In the first three months of this year 113 Albertans lost their lives, a 61 per cent increase in deaths over the same period of 2016.

We’re starting to see the same disturbing trends here as in B.C., without basic analysis of why we continue to lose ground even after four years, nor have we chosen to call this a public health emergency to mobilize all related resources. This is a mistake. B.C.’s declaration of a public health emergency led to resources being mobilized through the Health ministry across all government departments and between all stakeholders in a co-ordinated plan, with monthly reporting on what is working and what is not. Alberta struggles to report quarterly on fentanyl and other opioid deaths. B.C. embraced an early harm-reduction measure, including safe injection sites. We have yet to see a safe injection site in Alberta.

Naloxone kits are undoubtedly saving lives. The associate minister yesterday admitted there were 1,130 life-saving doses of naloxone given in the first three months of this year. That’s 13 near deaths every day in Alberta. Clearly, we are not getting ahead of this devastation.

Wait times have improved for opioid replacement therapy, but outside of Edmonton and Calgary people seeking help continue to wait too long.

Numbers are not enough. There is a troubling lack of analysis of what changes are needed and where for an accurate picture of this epidemic. Strong new leadership from a mental health and addic-tions expert is needed, who can focus and oversee an evidence-based, co-ordinated plan and overcome the silos. This terribly stigmatized illness needs a new approach, and now is the time for the government to admit that its approach is not working.

This is the most important preventable public health crisis of our time. The lives of our children depend on it.