Earlier this morning, Michael Stuart and I signed and sent the letter below to Alberta’s Minister of Health and the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
Michael is our campaign chair and, like me, has spent time living in the Greater Vancouver area in the past. We have both seen the impact that harm reduction strategies have had in the fight against drug addiction in Vancouver. We both strongly believe we need to adapt here in Alberta many of the strategies employed in BC as we cope with rising opioid and drug addiction deaths linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this letter we are requesting that the Alberta government revisit its stance on harm reduction strategies for victims of opioid addition in drug use.
We fully recognize and respect provincial jurisdiction on the deployment of health care strategies. We’re asking only that the provincial government listen to the experts in this field, who have proven and affirmed that safe consumption sites and harm reduction principles save lives. And we ask that the provincial government welcome the federal government as a partner in working towards solutions that acknowledge that fact.
If successful in winning the Conservative nomination in Edmonton Strathcona and if elected Member of Parliament, it will be a priority for me to do whatever is possible to increase federal government support for harm reduction strategies in Alberta.
Hon. Jason Luan, MLA
Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions
420 Legislature Building
10800 – 97 Avenue
Hon. Tyler Shandro, MLA
Minister of Health
423 Legislature Building
10800 – 97 Avenue
January 7, 2021
RE: FEDERAL AID FOR HARM REDUCTION STRATEGIES
Dear Minister Shandro and Associate Minister Luan:
We are writing to you as residents of Edmonton, and as federal Conservatives, requesting that your government revisit its stance on harm reduction strategies for victims of opioid addiction and drug use in Alberta. News of a recent decision by Alberta Health Services to eliminate the Edmonton-based Addiction Prevention and Mental Health Promotion Team is but one of many developments that we feel weaken the defences of the most vulnerable at a time when they need help the most.
We are all too familiar with the tragic statistics showing dramatic increases in deaths related to drug overdoes and opioid addiction during this COVID-19 pandemic. That is why, in our view, and based on what we’re hearing from residents in our federal riding of Edmonton Strathcona, it’s important that the provincial government use federal funds available to pull out all stops to help save lives.
From our perspective, the most effective means of addressing drug addiction is a “four pillars” strategy, based on the principles of harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement. This approach was first implemented in Europe in the 1990s, and is a strategy that has proven over and again to be the best approach to saving lives. It’s currently used in Geneva, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Sydney. It’s one that is also employed in British Columbia, as you likely know. As former residents of Greater Vancouver, we both understand the momentous impact that projects like Insite have on keeping our fellow citizens alive.
The impact of strategies built on these ideas is supported by peer-reviewed data cited by the Government of British Columbia, which shows that harm reduction principles – specifically safe consumption sites – promote increased access to treatment and a decreased number of overdose-related deaths. Even here at home, Alberta Health’s data makes clear that existing safe consumption sites in the province are making a difference.
Your government has made it clear that the harm reduction strategy is not a priority. The elimination this week of the mental health and prevention team is the most recent example of that, over and above recent policy decisions that reduce access to safe injection sites, needle exchanges, and outreach services. Alberta Health reporting 301 opioid-related deaths in Q2 2020 is proof that our most vulnerable deserve better. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have only heightened the need for action.
Associate Minister Luan has made his position clear on harm reduction strategies. In the wake of the federal government’s 2019 announcement of funding designed to provide access to safer drug alternatives, he wrote in an op-ed that Alberta’s model for addressing this crisis “does not, and will not, include the unethical supply of taxpayer-funded hard drugs to support addiction.” Instead, he highlighted a $140-million provincial commitment to treatment and recovery for addicts, in addition to the creation of 4,000 treatment spaces.
While we agree that treatment and recovery programming is vitally important, we don’t agree that it is “unethical” to provide drugs to those suffering from addiction under a supervised harm reduction strategy. We do think it is unethical, however, to turn our backs on harm reduction strategies that have proven to save lives.
If Alberta truly wants to provide a “continuum of care”, harm reduction strategies must play a part in it. Treatment and recovery programs can’t help the hundreds of Albertans who have tragically died due to contaminated supply and unsafe consumption. A complete continuum of care demands that we embrace practices that keep people alive, such that they are actually able to access those treatment and recovery programs. Without those practices, there is a material gap in our approach. And people die as a result.
Outside Alberta, Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu in September 2020 announced “funding support of nearly $9.5-million for four safer supply projects for people at risk of overdose in Ontario.” Further, as part of its $76.2-million funding commitment to scale up key lifesaving measures, the federal government also delivered $2-million to a safer supply pilot program within British Columbia’s Island Health region in July 2020.
Ontario and BC have accepted harm reduction money from the federal government. Why can’t your government? If ideology or politics are the reason, that’s wrong. Lives are at stake.
We fully respect provincial jurisdiction on the deployment of health care strategies. We ask only two things of you.
Firstly, listen to the experts. They have proven and affirmed that safe consumption sites and harm reduction principles save lives.
Secondly, welcome the federal government as a partner in working towards solutions that acknowledge that fact. The federal Substance Use and Addictions Program has already contributed to numerous worthy causes in Alberta; there is no reason that it shouldn’t also be used to support desperately needed harm reduction programming as it has in other provinces.
Thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to supporting a comprehensive provincial government response to this crisis.
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