Dr. Swann in Question Period on Opioid Emergency Response Commission – 31 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Opioid Emergency Response Commission

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today the government announced what they call their aggressive opioid plan, which can be summed up as more piecemeal action, including the creation of a new advisory opioid commission. Not only is this an admission that the government’s response has not been sufficient, but after four years of increasing opiate deaths, instead of giving us a clear evidence-based plan – to the minister: now that you’ve got the advisers, how long before we see a public strategic plan with specific targets and timelines?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m incredibly proud of the group that’s been brought together to form the opioid emergency response commission, which includes harm reduction program advocates, parent advocates, law enforcement, and representation from indigenous communities. The commission has scheduled two meetings for the upcoming month, and I look forward to their recommendations in the very near future. I’m going to allow the experts that we’ve assembled to bring together their recommen-dations rather than try and presuppose their outcomes.

Dr. Swann: All good people, Mr. Speaker. A little late to the table. The minister has repeatedly told us that it was not necessary to declare a public health emergency because the government already had enough power and resources to deal with the crisis. We disagreed. Now she’s claiming that the new plan will expand her powers but can’t say what the new powers are or what will change. To the minister: specifically, what new powers does the minister have to stem the tide?

The Speaker: The associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. You know, instead of trying to use powers that were meant for an infectious disease outbreak, our government has crafted new, aggressive emergency tools that will move forward and address the actual crisis in front of us, which is a public health crisis. It a question of how we react and respond to people who are living with a chronic health condition. This is an important issue, and as a government we think it’s very important that every single Albertan who is struggling with substance use is treated with respect and dignity and has access to the treatment and the supports they need as quickly as possible.
Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the people on the front lines are looking for answers, not rhetoric. Whether or not these additional powers are sufficient remains to be seen, but what is clear is that these powers are for the minister, and the commission itself reports to the minister instead of to a public health expert, a mental health and addictions expert. To the minister: how can Albertans have confidence that you will do what’s necessary, especially since it’s taken a year and a half just to get the advisory panel in place?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thanks, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. The commission will be directing aggressive action focused on six key areas, including harm reduction, treatment, prevention, en-forcement, collaboration as well as data collection and monitoring. The commission will be providing recommendations directly to my office around how we can best use the tools and the $30 million in new budget dollars for 2017 to have the best impacts quickly within our communities, and then the commission is going to be respon-sible for implementing those actions. I fully trust the members of this commission to do an excellent job. We have a very talented group assembled.