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More opioid treatment coming to Alberta, but no progress on consumption sites

Last Updated Oct 6, 2017 at 4:29 pm MDT

As the opioid crisis continues in Alberta, the NDP government has announced new funding for increased treatment facilities in Calgary and Edmonton, but the wait for approval on consumption sites continues.

On Friday, Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said $4.6 million would go towards centres in both cities, including $2.2 million for Calgary resources.

The government says the Calgary region funding will go towards:

-Providing medication-assisted therapy at the Renfrew Recovery Centre for up to 180 new patients each year
-Expanding the hours, staff and services at the opioid dependency clinic at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, allowing the centre to serve an additional 240 clients
-Expanding access to Suboxone and methadone treatment and mental health services at Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS), providing services to 250 patients annually
-Adding medication-assisted therapy to the services offered at the Alex, expected to help 250 people each year
-Expanding the hours of operation of the Community Paramedic City Centre Team to seven days a week, 12 hours a day, which is anticipated to help up to 1,500 additional patients

“Addressing substance use as the medical concern that it is and providing medical supports for people, so that when an individual is ready to start treatment, they’re able to do so right away,” Payne said.

However, one of the government’s biggest projects in responding to the crisis is still unapproved.

Back in August, Payne said the government was waiting on federal approval for supervised consumption sites, including the one planned for Calgary at Chumir.

But Payne said the wait continues.

“We are still waiting on Health Canada approval for those sites,” she said. “We are working on a plan to have something open as soon as possibly can.”

“We have and continue to impress upon them the urgency of the approval to have those sites open across the province, I can’t really speak to their process, but that we are continuing to work with them to expedite those applications, because we know it will make a different here in Alberta.”

One of the most vocal advocates on the issue, Alberta MLA Dr. David Swann called the funding a good step, but remains frustrated at delay with the site.

“I cannot understand what the barrier is,” he said. “It’s just unconscionable that we’re continuing to wait into the next year, presumably, before we see this supervised consumption site, in a four-year rolling crisis.”

Swann added more has to be done on prevention and meeting the needs for rural Albertans.

Dr. Laura Evans with the Renfrew Recovery Centre and Opioid Dependency Program said wait lists for treatment used to be around eight weeks, but that’s gone down significantly.

“As far as the wait times go right now, there are still waits, but it’s within a week,” she said.

Chelsea Burnham, who has overcome addiction, said the public needs to understand the importance of what the services can do, as well as the stigma surrounding the problem.

“This isn’t someone made a bad decision and is a horrible person,” she said. “I know in my heart that I’m a good person and that I love myself.”

“I have to work every day to keep this up and I’m able to do that because of programs that were able to free me from the world of addiction, I was able to get on methodone and then go to treatment and now be in recovery.”

According to AHS, 241 people have died this year of opioid-related overdoses and UCP Mental Health Critic Mark Smith said resources have to be directed towards education and prevention.

“We need to focus on how to prevent opioid addiction in the first place and that begins with education,” said Smith. “There also needs to be a greater emphasis placed on the role that mental health practitioners can play in the fight against opioid addiction and additional mental health resources at the PCN level would go a long way toward reducing the number of Albertans who fall victim to opioids.”