New commission announced to guide opioid response

The province has established a dedicated emergency commission to help ramp up Alberta’s ability to respond to the opioid crisis.

Emergency commission members

Read the news release

If you need help

There are many reasons someone may want help with their substance use, and many ways to be helped. Help doesn’t mean you have to stop using if that is not your goal. You don’t have to be addicted to opioids, or any substances, to think about getting help.

  • Naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose, including fentanyl. You don’t need a prescription and it’s free at sites across Alberta. Find a naloxone kit near you.
  • If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s drug use, call Health Link at 811 or the Addiction Help Line at 1-866-332-2322

Overview

The Chief Medical Officer of Health is leading the response to the opioid crisis and is working closely with:

  • health experts
  • community groups
  • parent advocates
  • people who have used or continue to use opioids or drugs
  • law enforcement
  • the medical community
  • other Alberta government ministries

In May 2017, the government created the new Minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission, under the Opioid Emergency Response Regulation in the Public Health Act. The commission will oversee and implement priority actions on the opioid crisis, focused on six strategic areas:

  • Harm-reduction initiatives
  • Treatment
  • Prevention
  • Enforcement and supply control
  • Collaboration
  • Surveillance and analytics

Harm reduction

Harm Reduction enhances the ability of people who use substances to have increased control over their lives and their health, and allows them to take protective and proactive measures for themselves, their families and their communities. Reduction of substance use and/or abstinence is neither expected nor required in order to receive respect, compassion or quality services.

Harm Reduction aims to decrease adverse health, social and economic outcomes that may result from risky actions. It represents policies, strategies, services and practices that assist people to live safer and healthier lives. It acknowledges that each person is different and requires different supports, strategies and goals.

Examples of harm reduction include, but are not limited to:

Fentanyl use patterns

This rise in fentanyl overdoses is part of a pattern that has been seen across Canada. The Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use has tracked this pattern in a 2015 bulletin, Deaths Involving Fentanyl in Canada, 2009–2014 (0.3 MB).

Fentanyl-related deaths in Alberta

  2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
Jan - Mar 120 70 73 - - - -
April - June - 84 66 - - - -
July - Sept - 90 66 - - - -
Oct - Dec - 119 52 - - - -
Total 176* 363 257 117 66 29 6
* Jan 1 - May 13

Prescribing patterns

5 highest-volume perscribed opioids in Alberta, by month, Jan. 2015 to Dec. 2016

Total OME per 1,000 population, per month, Jan. 2015 to Dec. 2016
Source: Triplicate Prescription Program (CPSA)
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta

Reports

Opioid and substances of misuse reports

Quarterly reports

Quarterly reports are used to assess not only fentanyl misuse, but the use/misuse of opioids and narcotics in Alberta through existing public health surveillance.

Q1 report: January – March 2017 (1.0 MB)

Q4 report: October – December 2016 (1.0 MB)

Q3 report: July – September 2016 (0.8 MB)

Interim reports

Interim reports use 6-week data to show apparent drug overdose deaths related to fentanyl.

Interim Report, April 2 - May 13, 2017 (0.2 MB)

Interim Report, Jan. 1 – Feb. 11, 2017 (1.0 MB)

Opioid crisis response reports

Opioid response progress report 2, March 2017 (1.0 MB)

Opioid response progress report 1, November 2016 (0.2 MB)

Minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission

The commission was created to implement urgent coordinated actions to address the opioid crisis.

The commission members are:

  • Dr. Karen Grimsrud, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta (co-chair)
  • Elaine Hyshka, assistant professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health (co-chair)
  • Karen Turner, president of Alberta Addicts Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly (AAWEAR)
  • Marliss Taylor, program manager of Streetworks, Edmonton’s needle-distribution program
  • Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, physician on Kainai First Nation (Blood Tribe)
  • Petra Schultz, parent advocate with Moms Stop the Harm
  • Atiya Ashna, Diversity and Community Collaboration specialist
  • Staff Sgt. Jason Walker, Calgary Police Service
  • Dr. Nicholas Etches, Calgary clinician with expertise in opioid addiction and treatment
  • Dr. Karen Mazurek, deputy registrar, College of Physicians and Surgeons
  • Kathy Ness, Assistant Deputy Minister, Health Services Delivery Division, Alberta Health
  • Bill Sweeney, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Public Security Division, Alberta Justice and Solicitor General
  • Kathryn Todd, Vice President, Research, Innovation and Analytics, as well as Executive Lead for Seniors, Addiction and Mental Health with Alberta Health Services
  • Dr. Gerry Predy, Senior Medical Officer of Health, Alberta Health Services

Definitions

Opioid

Opioids are drugs used to relieve pain. The most common forms are:

  • codeine
  • oxycodone
  • methadone
  • hydromorphone
  • fentanyl

Opioids can be pharmaceutical-grade and prescribed by physicians and surgeons. Prescription opioids can end up for illegal sale on the street. These can be “cut” or tainted with other compounds, including fentanyl.

Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a very strong, odourless and tasteless synthetic narcotic about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Non-illicit fentanyl is typically prescribed to control severe pain.

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is being imported, mixed with other drugs and illegally sold in pill form (fake oxys and other club drugs) or powder form (as heroin or fent) and powder form mixed into other drugs (e.g. cocaine, crystal meth, etc.).

Three or 4 grains of fentanyl are enough to kill an average adult.

Carfentanil

Carfentanil is a fentanyl analogue and opioid drug 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. It is not licensed for use in humans, but is meant to sedate large animals under strict safety conditions, such as elephants. One grain can kill an adult.

News

New commission to guide opioid emergency response

May 31, 2017
The province has established a dedicated emergency commission to help ramp up Alberta’s ability to respond to the opioid crisis.

New federal opioid funding will help save lives

March 10, 2017
Federal funding of $6 million will contribute to Alberta’s opioid strategy to help save lives from anyone at risk of overdosing on fentanyl or other opioids.

Province expands naloxone program, adds treatment spaces

February 7, 2017
Alberta firefighters have greater access to lifesaving naloxone kits now that all first responders can administer naloxone by injection.

Statement from Alberta ministers on federal response to opioid crisis

December 12, 2016
Brandy Payne, Associate Minister of Health, and Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, have issued the following statement in response to federal legislation introduced today to help prevent opioid deaths.

Toxic opioid carfentanil linked to 15 deaths

December 5, 2016
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Karen Grimsrud, and Acting Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim are notifying the public that the toxic opioid carfentanil is still circulating in our province and has been linked to 15 drug overdose deaths.

Province bolsters opioid action plan to save lives

October 27, 2016
Alberta is implementing a range of new tools to address overdoses and deaths related to fentanyl and other opioids.

Statement from ministers on detection of carfentanil

October 7, 2016
With the illicit opioid carfentanil being confirmed in two recent Alberta deaths, the Health and Justice ministers reaffirm government efforts to address and prevent opioid deaths.

Carfentanil detected in two deaths in Alberta

October 7, 2016
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health is alerting the public, as well as health and law-enforcement officials, that the illicit opioid carfentanil has been confirmed by the Chief Medical Examiner in two recent deaths.

Latest steps to combat opioids are welcomed by Justice and Health Ministers

August 31, 2016
The Government of Alberta has been working closely with the Government of Canada to restrict chemicals used to make fentanyl from entering the country.

Province improves and expands access to naloxone, opioid treatment and counselling

May 11, 2016
Beginning this Friday, Albertans will be able to get take-home naloxone kits free-of-charge from community pharmacies without a prescription.