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.