Alberta doctors call for more drug-use sites to reduce strain on acute-care resources
Emergency action needed, physicians say in letter to premier, prime minister
A group of Edmonton physicians says the Alberta government's overhaul of harm reduction supports for people who use drugs is needlessly straining acute care resources as COVID-19 demands grow.
Members of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association's opioid poisoning committee have penned a letter to Premier Jason Kenney, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other health and addictions officials.
It calls for emergency action to address the drug poisoning crisis.
The association says communities do not have adequate resources to respond to spiking drug overdoses, so people who face adverse reactions are needing help from first responders, emergency departments and intensive care units more often.
Under Kenney's leadership, the province has limited access to a life-saving opioid dependency program and supervised drug-use sites.
The group is recommending two emergency actions: expanding access to injectable opioid agonist treatment programs, and bolstering supervised consumption and overdose prevention services.
More than 145 people and 18 organizations from across Canada — including the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, Moms Stop the Harm and Protect Our Province Alberta — have signed the letter in support.
"We know that Alberta's current approach to the drug poisoning crisis unnecessarily strains acute care resources and is directly contributing to an rising number of deaths," the letter says.
"In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the above emergency policy actions are life-saving not only for people who use drugs, but for all Albertans in need of intensive care."
New sites being considered
Eric Engler, press secretary to Mike Ellis, the associate minister for mental health and addictions, said in an email that funding for supervised consumption sites is "at its highest level in Alberta's history" and that supervised consumption sites are still available in the province's major centres.
"New sites are being considered where there is a demonstrated need and community support," Engler wrote.
"For example, we're in conversations with Boyle Street Community Services about operating a supervised consumption service elsewhere in Edmonton where there is a need."
Elliott Tanti, senior manager of communications and engagement at Boyle Street Community Services, confirms his organization has been talking to the government about overdose prevention sites, which don't require federal approval to operate.
"The plan is to put them in areas all across the city where we're seeing challenges, but also bringing services to where people are at," he said.
Tanti said he has been given no timelines for when these sites will be set up. Engler, in his response to CBC News, did not provide an answer to that question.
With files from Michelle Bellefontaine, CBC News