High rates of recreational opioid drug use have climbed in communities across Canada in recent years, now boiling over into a public health crisis.
In order to help tackle this issue, Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced this week in the legislature a new, comprehensive and health-based strategy that will help to make safe-injection sites more readily available to communities who are calling for them.
These sites, now being called safe-consumption sites, are to be under the management of the health ministry’s newly proposed Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, as opposed to the current justice department’s Anti-Drug Strategy.
What does this mean for Albertans, specifically Central Albertans?
It means opportunities to properly address the issue of addictions. It means providing diverse solutions to a complex issue and referring to the issue under a health lens, as opposed to a law enforcement lens.
According to Alberta Health, the numbers of overdoses related to fentanyl and other opioids have spiked alarmingly in the past two years, with 193 deaths related to fentanyl from Jan. 1st- Sept.1st. In 2015, there were 257 deaths in Alberta associated with fentanyl.
In both major cities of the province there are Alberta Health Services (AHS) Opioid Dependency Programs that are available to help people gain control of their addiction and to move towards a safer path of recovery, beginning with safer injection and education.
Some people might think this new approach promotes drug use, but this is not necessarily true. Harm reduction is the term used to help promote safer injections, clean needles, needle drop boxes, information, overdose prevention kits, guidance and more. These tools are all part of a comprehensive health plan that aims to acknowledge users where they are, free of judgment and provide them stability and strength in overcoming their addictions.
The roll-out of take home opioid overdose prevention kits, or Naloxone kits, was designed to help combat the overwhelming numbers of deaths related to fentanyl and other opioids. These kits are available in a number of pharmacies, doctors’ offices, Red Deer’s Turning Point and more.
These kits are a testament to the true issue at hand, which is how do we as a country, a province or municipality lower the rates of opioid related overdose deaths.
The federal health ministry and Alberta Health Services are both working towards a united cause of reducing harm in communities and saving lives. The new legislation would help to construct and operate safe consumption sites, where people have the tools they need to use safely and where people can react much quicker to overdoses and other specific needs of addicted persons.
As well, health departments are working to expand access to support services such as counselling and prevention education awareness.
The reality of Alberta, and the rest of Canada, is that opioids have grown in presence in recent years. There have been lives lost due to opioid overdoses and lives saved with the overdose prevention kits. To tackle the wide spread issue of addictions, shouldn’t there ought to be wide spread supports and services?
The new Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy is hoping to combat what is now being called a public health crisis, in relation to opioid overdose numbers. The strategy will also make changes to import laws, helping to drive down the numbers of illegally imported drugs and packagings used to move these drugs.
This new strategy is sure to meet some controversy among municipalities, health officials and more, but it’s important to remember that Canada, as a nation, is moving towards a path of harm-reduction, rather than criminal charges for addictions, which have officially moved under the jurisdiction of the health ministry.