Albertans who are taken into police custody and who have an opioid addiction will now have the ability to immediately start evidence-based medication treatments voluntarily, such as the newly announced Sublocade injection, right in municipal jails.
To support this innovative program, Alberta’s government is providing $1.4 million to expand and create a low-barrier/harm reduction division of the virtual opioid dependency program (VODP). This division will do rapid assessment and treatment initiations for those struggling with addiction and opioid use, and will also provide enhanced case management for clients after their release from custody. Total provincial funding for the VODP is $6.4 million annually.
“Albertans have yet another opportunity to choose treatment and recovery over a life in addiction. Albertans must still be held accountable for their actions, but we can also treat addiction as a health-care issue at the same time. The recovery-oriented system of care we’re building is about ensuring Albertans across multiple systems have access to evidence-based treatment options when and where they need them.”
The implementation of addiction treatment in municipal jails will begin with the Edmonton Police Service, the Calgary Police Service and at some rural locations with the RCMP. The voluntary service is available to Albertans who have been arrested for any offence starting immediately, with some treatment initiations having already taken place.
All Albertans now have access to the newly funded drug Sublocade, which lasts in a person’s system for 30 days providing stabilization, reduced craving and significantly enhanced protection against overdose. This has the potential to greatly reduce the rate of opioid-related fatalities after discharge from municipal jails.
“As part of a comprehensive recovery-oriented system of care, we need to provide treatment options wherever possible. Edmonton Police Service welcomes the addition of addiction treatment into our detainee management unit. Addiction is a healthcare issue, and we must treat it as one while still holding people accountable to the community for their criminal actions. These actions take some much needed steps in bridging law enforcement with healthcare to get better outcomes for people in need.”
“The Calgary Police Service supports collaborative solutions that help tackle the addiction crisis. Enforcement alone isn’t enough. We need to address the issue holistically to help protect our communities. Our officers look forward to partnering with VODP to ensure that all of our detainees have access to these life saving medications.”
“We know that addiction needs to be treated as a healthcare issue while we also ensure that people are held accountable for their actions. Providing life saving evidence-based medications to people with addiction will improve health and hopefully will decrease their involvement in the criminal justice system.”
“The Virtual Opioid Dependency Program was started to do system changing work just like this. Effective addiction treatment in municipal jails will relieve suffering and provide, to those who choose it, treatment that will improve their outcomes and support healing in our communities. This initiative is part of a comprehensive recovery-oriented system of care that will save lives.”
In addition, the Edmonton Police Service received $600,000 in provincial funding to hire more social navigators to its Human-centred Engagement and Liaison Partnership (HELP) teams. The HELP teams, which pair police constables and social navigators, work closely with local community organizations and focus their efforts on assuring people struggling with mental health and addiction are able to access recovery-oriented health care and social supports so they do not become entrenched in the judicial system.
Alberta’s government is helping Albertans access life-saving addiction and mental health-related prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery resources. A $140-million investment over four years is supporting the addition of more than 8,000 new publicly funded treatment spaces; the elimination of daily user fees for publicly funded residential addiction treatment; a new patient matching tool, Recovery Access Alberta; and services to reduce harm, such as the Digital Overdose Prevention System (DORS) app, the introduction of a nasal naloxone pilot, expansion of opioid agonist therapy and fully covering the cost of the injectable opioid treatment drug Sublocade.
As part of a comprehensive recovery-oriented system of care, the health system and justice system are coordinating, providing up to $20 million over four years to expand drug treatment courts to help stop people stuck in the cycle of addiction-related crime from reoffending. This expansion includes doubling the total combined capacity of the Edmonton and Calgary courts and expanding the courts across Alberta.
- The VODP is administered by Alberta Health Services and is available throughout the province. People dependent on opioids are treated with opioid agonist therapy (OAT) drugs and provided with ongoing support and monitoring in an outpatient setting. When taken as prescribed, OAT drugs help a person function normally by managing withdrawal symptoms.
- The VODP can be accessed by calling 1-844-383-7688. The toll-free line is available seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. There is no wait-list for the program.
- For additional support, information and referral to services, call Alberta 211 or the Addiction Helpline (1-866-332-2322) or visit recoveryaccessalberta.ca.
- Individuals in Edmonton, Calgary and surrounding communities also have access to the Digital Overdose Response System (DORS), a free mobile app designed to prevent fatal overdoses. Find the app on the Apple and Google app store of visit DORSApp.ca.