“Alberta is in the midst of an addiction crisis that is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid-related fatalities have increased across the country, with public health restrictions having a negative impact on people with addiction.

“Data now shows that the fourth wave in September and October has only further fuelled opioid-related fatalities. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported 146 opioid-related fatalities in September and 148 in October. This trend is being seen in other jurisdictions, including British Columbia where 201 suspected overdose deaths were recorded in October alone. My heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones as a result of the illness of addiction, whether it be from opioids or any other substance. It is evident that addiction affects everyone in our communities.

“There is hope for those who struggle with this brutal illness. We know that recovery from addiction is possible and that when people have access to the appropriate treatment, recovery can be expected. Alberta is building a comprehensive recovery-oriented system of care that supports every Albertan in their pursuit of recovery. The system we are building ranges from prevention and intervention to treatment and recovery.

“Alberta’s government has been doing everything it can to increase access to care by funding more than 8,000 annual treatment spaces, removing user fees for publicly funded addiction treatment, supporting medication-based treatment on demand and so much more. Our approach also includes providing access to services that reduce harm such as overdose prevention services, increased access to naloxone and the rollout of the Digital Overdose Response System. There is no one solution to the illness of addiction, and we need the help of police, fire, EMS and civil society to tackle this crisis and help people get the care they need.

“With the onset of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, it is uncertain whether the pandemic impacts will carry into the new year. With current world events, we expect it could get worse before it gets better. We will do everything we can to ensure Albertans continue to be able to access a comprehensive system that meets people where they are at and helps them get where they need to go.

“With the holiday season upon us, I would like to remind everyone that support continues to be available. Anyone struggling with opioid addiction can call the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program at 1-844-383-7688 to get treatment the same day with no wait-list. Albertans can also call 211 any time, day or night, to get connected with addiction and mental health supports in their area.”