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Home » UCP surpasses targets in creating addictions treatment spaces, while still criticizing harm reduction – Calgary Herald

UCP surpasses targets in creating addictions treatment spaces, while still criticizing harm reduction – Calgary Herald

Alberta’s United Conservative government says it has funded more than 8,000 addiction treatment spaces in the last three years, doubling the number originally promised in 2019.
Premier Jason Kenney made the announcement at the Fresh Start Recovery Centre in northeast Calgary on Saturday alongside the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Mike Ellis. These spaces are part of the province’s $140-million investment to improve addiction and mental health care amid a deadly opioid crisis.
“Every year, over 8,000 more Albertans are going to have access to fully funded medical detox, residential treatment, and residential recovery services that were not available before,” Kenney said during a media availability at the Recovery Capital Conference of Canada.
The 8,000 beds include new treatment spaces, funding existing private spaces, and upgrading existing detox spaces to medically supported ones. Residential recovery facilities can provide supports to improve physical and mental health, connections between family and community, employment skills, and stable housing.
Addiction treatment funded by the province is available for free for Albertans to access.
“No more paying for out-of-pocket user fees, and no more requirement to sign up on welfare. This is going to help thousands more people access treatment,” he said.
Lerena Greig, executive director of Parents Empowering Parents Society, said the additional treatment spaces and removal of daily fees have been helpful for families and people struggling with addiction to get help. Families tell her they’re seeing shorter wait times and more availability for treatment centres, she said.
“I think investments in more beds and taking away the financial barrier opens up more opportunity for them to get help at that moment that they seek it,” Greig said. “There have been gaps in our systems before and there are still are some gaps, but they’re closing.”
Along with treatment spaces, the $140-million investment has supported the elimination of daily user fees for residential addiction treatment spaces, the Digital Overdose Response System, and the expansion of opioid agonist therapy through a program called the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program. Early in the new year, the province will be rolling out software called My Recovery Plan to improve connections in the addiction care system so client data and treatment histories can be shared between agencies.
In the first eight months of 2021, 1,026 Albertans have died of overdoses compared to 859 in the same time period in 2020, which was by far the worst year for fatalities with 1,316.
The Alberta government appointed a panel to look into the socio-economic impacts of supervised consumption sites on communities in 2019. The panel’s released review was widely criticized last year for linking consumption sites with deteriorating public safety, increased needle debris and alleged inaccuracies about overdose data.
Kenney has previously said the UCP will not consider safe supply programs or bolster existing supports, such as supervised consumption services. Next week, Kenney said, the government will be appointing a select legislative committee to look at safe supply, which would prescribe medications to people who are at high risk of overdose as a safer alternative.
“There’s a growing push by special interests to make drugs more available to addicts. And we don’t think facilitating deadly addictions is the single responsible approach,” Kenney said. “That committee will be calling on experts, people who have coped with recovering from addictions, and others.”
Kenney said he believes many people in the harm reduction space are “dismissive of recovery.”
“They don’t think (recovery) is possible, they don’t even encourage people to pursue it,” he said. “That’s why I said about 40 times my speech today, recovery is possible. And that’s where we want to drive everybody.”
Dr. Mark Tyndall, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, previously told Postmedia Kenney’s statement on harm reduction initiatives is categorically false.
“To make a correlation between bad outcomes and harm reduction is clearly a flawed way of looking at it. Without harm reduction, things would be a lot worse,” said Tyndall. “To say that harm reduction hasn’t made any difference is against all the research and all of our experience.”
Lori Sigurdson, NDP critic for addictions and mental health, said Alberta’s response to the opioid crisis should not be “measured in beds opened or dollars spent, but must be measured by lives saved.”
“I support the opening of new recovery beds, but Albertans cannot use them if they are already dead,” Sigurdson said in a press release.
“Harm reduction services are often the first point for people with addictions to access care. The UCP campaigned on closing supervised consumption sites, which they have now done. Jason Kenney has continually mischaracterized harm reduction services, which stigmatizes people needing to access them.”
The UCP cabinet approved a strategy to overhaul existing supervised consumption services a year ago, which included the closure of the Safeworks site in Calgary’s Beltline, situated in the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre. The supervised consumption site is still open but it is not known when it will close.
The province has promised two other safe consumption sites will be open in the city before Safeworks closes. When asked for an update on the two locations, Ellis said the province is in talks with two operators now but could not give a timeline for when the negotiations would be finalized.
[email protected]
Twitter: @BrittGervaisAB
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