New commission to guide opioid emergency response
The province has established a dedicated emergency commission to help ramp up Alberta’s ability to respond to the opioid crisis.
The Minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission was created with a new regulation under the Public Health Act. The commission’s mandate is to implement urgent coordinated actions to address this public health crisis.
“Responding to the rising toll of opioid-related deaths in Alberta is a top priority and must continue to be addressed with urgency. The new Minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission will guide the province’s continuing work and ensure each action we take will reduce the harms to opioid users, their families, their communities and first responders.”
The new commission will accelerate Alberta’s ability to increase treatment, including providing more access to opioid replacement therapy. One of the first priorities will be expanding public coverage of drugs; including Suboxone and methadone, prescribed through opioid replacement therapy.
This week, a new opioid-dependency program opened in Grande Prairie to provide treatment and counselling services to approximately 300 patients. An opioid-dependency program also opened in central Alberta in April to treat patients in Wetaskiwin, Rocky Mountain House, Stettler and Ponoka through tele-mental health programming.
The commission will be co-chaired by Dr. Elaine Hyshka, Scientific Director of the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s Inner City Health and Wellness Program, and Dr. Karen Grimsrud, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
“Our province is facing a historically unprecedented overdose epidemic. Addressing this crisis will take solutions grounded in evidence, and informed by frontline service providers, and people and families directly affected by substance use. Our commission includes these perspectives and is committed to urgent action that will reduce suffering and save lives. Today’s announcement is a positive step forward, but the path ahead will be challenging and will require measures that have never been taken before in Alberta.”
“Alberta has already taken many actions to address the opioid crisis. The diverse membership and expertise of the new commission will allow us to build and strengthen the actions already in place to prevent drug overdoses and advise on additional steps that can be taken. Our aggressive and coordinated approach will continue to focus on getting Albertans who use substances the help they need.”
The commission also includes representation from a diverse group affected by the opioid crisis, including law enforcement, Indigenous communities, harm-reduction program experts and parent advocates.
“I’m pleased that the family voice is being included on the commission. My son Danny died of an accidental overdose. I don’t want one more family to suffer such a tragic loss. Today’s announcement gives hope that lives will be saved.”
The new regulation will accelerate Alberta’s ability to pursue additional harm reduction initiatives to prevent further deaths. This includes providing recommendations on operational funding for supervised consumption services to help establish these life-saving services as quickly as possible.
In addition, the new regulation gives the Minister of Health greater powers to:
- Support health professionals in increasing their contribution to the crisis response, specifically in the area of opioid prescribing, overdose prevention and opioid dependency treatment.
- Direct Alberta Health Services to facilitate better access to addiction or acute care services.
The commission will make recommendations and develop a proposed budget on $30 million in new provincial money dedicated to the opioid crisis.
New actions this spring
- Budget 2017 allocates $44 million to the opioid crisis: $30 million in new funding, plus $13.9 million in base funding.
- An additional $12 million became available in March, when the federal government allocated $6 million to support the province’s work to address opioids and Alberta matched that with $6 million.
- In spring 2017, two new opioid-dependency programs opened in Alberta, one in Grande Prairie and another in central Alberta.