Albertans lobby for harm reduction rethink as opioid crisis continues

Groups across the province are calling for policy changes as more and more Albertans die every day due to a toxic drug supply.

Dozens gathered in Calgary and Edmonton Wednesday to lobby the government for more access to health services for those who use illicit drugs. It wants to see more harm reduction on Alberta streets, and believes changes start with an overhaul of addictions services.

“We just need to implement more programs that can meet people where they are,” Habeebah Adeladan of the group Each and Every said. “The Alberta government’s latest barriers to supervise consumption sites will drive people away. They need to talk to people with lived experiences, they need to talk to the experts who have spent 10 or 20 years learning about the topic of harm reduction.”

The group says it wants the UCP government to hone in on proven, safe care options, like supervised consumption and opioid treatment programs. Many accuse the province of instead putting its focus solely on recovery, instead of addressing root causes of addiction.

“(Harm reduction programs) can be a first step towards possibly recovery,” Lauren Cameron with AAWEAR told CTV News. “And if not, that’s OK too. As long as we’re keeping (drug users) alive.”

The provincial approach has funded 8000 treatment spaces and is working on programs that encourage Albertans to reach out for help if they’re in need.

But advocacy groups say its safe supply approach is lacking.

Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Mike Ellis was unavailable for an interview Wednesday.

His office sent a statement saying, in part, that calls for safe supply must be researched more before any action is taken.

“With respect to a proposed ‘safe supply,’ the select special committee to examine safe supply is speaking with addiction medicine and drug policy experts from across North America,” the statement says. “There is significant disagreement among Canadian physicians on the issue of a proposed ‘safe supply.’ The committee is giving this issue a comprehensive review.”

There were more than 1,300 drug poisoning deaths in the province over the first ten months of 2021.

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