Opinion: Albertans with Substance Abuse Deserve Regulated, Efficient, High-Quality Services


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Drug addiction is a disease that continues to impact our communities. Opioid addiction, in particular, has claimed the lives of far too many Albertans. Before entering politics, I spent 12 years with the Calgary Police Service (CPS) where I focused on community policing, which included working with some of Calgary’s most vulnerable.

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During my time with CPS, I have worked with thousands of Albertans from all walks of life. I have seen time and time again people struggling with the disease of addiction and losing their lives because of it.

Drug addiction is a disease and with the right treatment a cure can and should be expected.

I’m no stranger to helping Albertans find a new life in recovery as they experience this moment of clarity when change seems possible. I have also seen many lives lost because treatment and recovery services were not readily available at this critical time. Allowing people with a treatable disease to continue to get sicker, to the detriment of our communities, our families and our individual health is totally unacceptable.

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The Government of Alberta has not hesitated to tackle addiction head-on. We are ensuring that more than 4,000 Albertans have free access to life-saving treatment and recovery services each year, we are increasing access to evidence-based medications for opioid addiction, and we are increasing the quality of services that reduce damage before someone recovers.

Part of tackling addiction is ensuring that all services are regulated and meet high quality standards. In November 2019, Alberta became the first province in Canada to regulate residential drug treatment centers to protect clients and raise the quality of care. On September 30, Alberta will also become the first province to introduce quality standards for supervised consumption services. These standards will ensure clients have access to consistent, high-quality service across the province.

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Quality standards will ensure that supervised consumption sites act as intended, as an entry point into the health care system. Customers can expect consumption sites to partner with treatment and recovery programs, ensuring they receive the care they need to improve their lives as soon as possible. To this end, providers will be required to assist clients in obtaining a personal health insurance number so that they can immediately access the rest of the health care system when they need it. Clients will need to give informed consent before using the services and have access to things like the washroom while they are there.

This is a sensible step forward in ensuring that sites where people inject hazardous substances are properly regulated and managed to protect vulnerable Albertans, improve community safety, and provide individuals with the best possible hope of life. ‘an entry point to recovery.

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All Albertans struggling with substance abuse deserve access to effective, high-quality services that ensure their protection. This is what the NDP believed when it introduced the licensing of residential treatment; we accepted and we therefore continued.

It is unfortunate that now the NDP and its supporters do not believe that quality standards should be in place for services that support people using dangerous and deadly substances; they do not believe that staff should be trained to handle medical emergencies and require the supervision of a regulated health professional; they do not believe that personnel supervising life-threatening activities should be required to perform a vulnerable sector background check.

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What is perhaps most confusing is why they don’t believe that consumer site operators should be accountable to the communities they serve by putting good neighborly agreements in place. Communities deserve services that are committed to being good neighbors and renew this commitment regularly.

As we move forward, Albertans who have access to supervised consumption can expect high quality health care with ongoing support to initiate treatment and recover; surrounding communities can expect safer and cleaner neighborhoods; and the province as a whole can look forward to a healthier population contributing to the common goal of building a bright future for Alberta.

Services that reduce harm will remain an important part of Alberta’s recovery-oriented mental health and addiction system. We will continue to meet people where they are, but we will not leave them there. We won’t erase anyone. We will help them get their lives and families back because recovery is possible.

Mike Ellis is Associate Minister of Alberta Mental Health and Addiction.

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