The province’s precarious finances are preventing the government from taking “massive” steps it would like to take to improve addiction treatment in Alberta, the health minister said Sunday.
“I have a deficit and the price of oil is a fraction of what we’re (used to) seeing it at,” Health Minister and Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman said at an addiction recovery awareness event. “We are continuing to invest in resources in that area, but of course we’d like to provide far greater than we are today.”
Alberta needs hundreds more addiction treatment beds, and inpatient programs that run for at least 90 days — not the current 18 day stint, said Mike Ryan, chief mentor and program director of the youth advocacy and mentorship organization Clean Scene.
Ryan was the spokesman for Edmonton’s fourth annual Recovery Day, which gathered people in a Little Italy park Sunday to celebrate recovery from addiction and counter the shame some people feel about the problem.
People ready to seek help for addiction must wait as long as three months for access to a bed in a detoxification program, Ryan said. By then, they may have changed their mind and relapsed.
“When you want to make a change in your life, you need to move quickly,” Ryan said.
Ryan wants Alberta Health Services to take a new approach to guiding recovery, by adopting a mentorship model that matches people with others who have recovered from addiction, instead of an addictions counselling method that is too laden with bureaucracy, he said.
He joined some politicians and bereaved families and friends in calling on the health minister to declare fentanyl addiction a public health emergency in Alberta. B.C.’s chief medical health officer declared such an emergency last April after a rash of fentanyl deaths.
Alberta tallied 153 deaths from fentanyl overdoses during the first six months of 2016, and 274 deaths during 2015.
Ryan blamed the stigma surrounding addiction for a lack of government action. Any other emergent health problem with such a rising death toll would be treated as a crisis, he said.
Hoffman said she has discussed the possibility of calling a public health emergency with ministry officials, and they don’t believe it’s necessary in Alberta. One provincial health region allows sites to share data more freely than in other provinces, she said. The law giving more power to public health officials and nurses is designed for outbreaks of infectious diseases, she said.
“I want to make sure that we’re focusing the resources on where they’re going to make the best difference. Tying up legal counsel, bringing forward a public health emergency when it wouldn’t give us any additional tools, I don’t think it’s a good (use) of the public funds today,” Hoffman said.
The government initiated a mental health and addictions review shortly after taking office in May 2015, the minister said. As a result, government has announced or added 50 more detoxification beds, and made fentanyl’s antidote, naloxone, more widely available. The ministry has also pumped more money this year into methadone clinics, which help wean people off their addictions to painkillers and other opioids.
Opening three additional youth detox beds in Calgary has decreased the wait time to one day from 13 days, Hoffman’s press secretary, Laura Ehrkamp, said in an email. Same-day access is available for youths in Edmonton, she said. The average wait time now for an adult bed is about 20 days.
Hoffman said she hears Ryan’s concern, and said anyone who is ready to enter addictions treatment should have immediate access to a program.
“We want to make sure that the service is available to help them,” Hoffman said. “We still have work to do.”
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