Police in Alberta can now offer access to opioid addiction treatment to people in custody, says province

The province has unveiled a program that will allow police officers to offer access to addiction treatment to those taken into custody.

The new program is part of the province's battle against opioid addiction

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Mike Ellis says police will now play a key role in offering addiction treatment to people who are taken into custody. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The province has unveiled a program that will allow police officers to offer access to addiction treatment to those taken into custody.

Alberta's minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Mike Ellis, said Thursday that detainees will now have immediate access to evidence-based medications — regardless of their charges.

"Today's announcement is about bringing these systems together to connect Albertans with proven treatments that we know work," he said at a press conference.

The minister calls the program the first of its kind in Canada and says it will begin with the Edmonton Police Service, the Calgary Police Service and the RCMP at some rural locations. 

"We cannot simply remove our law enforcement officers from the equation. A comprehensive system of care can and must involve our law enforcement officers in the solution," he said.

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee says he sees it as a necessary bridge between law enforcement and public health.

"Those two work together hand-in-hand, and if we have an opportunity to save lives and to use the human factor such as the medical system to help, this is pretty much common sense," he said.

The program is supported through the $1.4-million expansion of the virtual opioid dependency program, which does rapid assessment and treatment initiations for those struggling with addiction and opioid use.

It will use Sublocade, a drug used to treat opioid addiction that provides stabilization and reduces cravings for 30 days.

Opioid fatalities 

Between January and August this year, Alberta had more than 1,000 fatalities — putting it on track to record its deadliest year on record for drug poisoning deaths.

According to a release, the addiction treatment program can potentially curb the rate of opioid-related fatalities when detainees are released from municipal jails.

Chief Mark Neufeld of the Calgary Police Service adds that people released from custody may also start out in a much healthier state — making them less likely to reoffend.

"The ability to block cravings and reduce the potential for overdose, whether in custody or once free from custody is … a potential game changer."

With files from Dave Will


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