Alberta government to announce 'aggressive' plan to tackle opioid crisis

In a news release Tuesday, the government said associate health minister Brandy Payne will announce new actions the province is taking to address the crisis.

Those advocating for stronger government action on opioid crisis encouraged by 'aggressive' approach

Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne, seen here in February, is set to announce an 'aggressive' approach to Alberta's opioid crisis. (CBC)

The Alberta NDP government will unveil an "aggressive" plan to tackle the opioid crisis Wednesday.

In a news release Tuesday, the government said associate health minister Brandy Payne will announce new actions the province is taking to address the crisis.

The announcement comes on the heels of a CBC Edmonton special report last week on how Alberta's fentanyl crisis escalated, despite years of warnings from addiction experts close to the government.

Fentanyl, 100 times more powerful than morphine, is the leading cause of opioid overdose deaths in Alberta. The drug killed 113 people in Alberta in the first three months of 2017. In 2016, 363 people in Alberta died from fentanyl.

But reports from Alberta Health also show deaths from carfentanil are also on a sharp increase. Carfentanil, which is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine, was found in 21 of the 113 deaths in the first three months of 2017.

'Not winning here at all'

Dr. Hakique Virani, a public health and addiction specialist at the University of Alberta, said he's encouraged by the use of the word "aggressive" when referring to the opioid crisis.

"I think the other words I'd like to hear are rapid and nimble," Virani said Tuesday.

"I hope we're seeing, with this aggressive response, a move to do things that haven't been done before, in ways that haven't been done before and more quickly than anything has ever happened in public health in recent memory." 

Dr. Hakique Virani says he'd like to see a bold response to the opioid crisis. (CBC)

David Swann, the leader of the Alberta Liberals, said he's looking forward to hearing what the provincial government has planned.

"If they would work together more effectively in a comprehensive approach and a thoughtful plan and some ongoing evaluation of what's happening, I would be happy," Swann said. 

Swann and Virani are both hoping for more involvement of people directly knowledgeable with the crisis. "I think it's time we put a new leadership in place to make sure we make this a priority," Swann said.

Added Virani: "In an ideal world, we would see, finally, leadership with context expertise in addictions, mental health and public health around the use of substances."

FROM FEBRUARY: Alberta government under fire for response to record 343 fentanyl deaths

And though Swann acknowledged the NDP government has "done some good work," he said more has to be done — which is why he's looking forward to the announcement.

"We are not winning here at all," he said. "This is the most serious public health crisis I've seen in many years here, in terms of loss of life."

Virani said all avenues need to be explored.

"If we're talking aggressive, we need to nip this in the bud with really, really bold actions," he said. "That means all options have to be on the table and executed quickly."

Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann, a former medical officer of health, said the opioid crisis is the most serious he's seen in many years, in terms of loss of life. (CBC)