“The past few months have led to increased fear and anxiety, isolation, disruption to in-person services, job uncertainty and more. This has exacerbated the struggles of many Albertans, including those struggling with substance use.     

“From April to June of this year, the province has seen an increase in harms associated with opioid use, with 301 people dying in Alberta as a result of opioid overdose.  

“Alberta is not alone in this reality – British Columbia has reported similar findings and trends during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we anticipate similar findings in other jurisdictions, such as Ontario, which is in the preliminary stages of reporting. 

“Prior to the pandemic, the province’s focus on recovery-oriented services seemed to be having a positive impact. For example, there was an 8.6 per cent decrease in the number of unintentional opioid deaths in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the same time period in 2019.

“As we move forward, it is more important than ever to continue to ensure every Albertan who needs it can find help and be supported on their path to long-term recovery.

More than $53 million has been invested by the Government of Alberta to enhance online, phone and in-person mental health and addiction recovery supports to make it easier for Albertans to access services during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Alberta’s government also remains committed to creating a world-class addiction and mental health system, spanning from prevention, to early intervention, to treatment and recovery. Significant increases in funding are supporting recovery-oriented supports and services, including:

“The government is in the process of creating 4,000 more publicly funded treatment spaces, and recently announced the expansion of the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program and the introduction of the Opioid Agonist Therapy Gap Coverage program. These programs have helped thousands of Albertans experiencing opioid addiction and will continue to help thousands more.

“Every life lost to addiction is one too many. I encourage anyone impacted by substance use, whether a loved one or yourself, to reach out for support. Call the Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322 for help, information and referral to services. The helpline is a 24-7, confidential, toll-free service. You are not alone. Help is available.”