Alberta to spend more than $80M on 4,000 addictions treatment spaces

Kenney says programs to help people get sober have been neglected in favour of harm reduction

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney discusses the accomplishments of his government in its first 100 days in office, in Edmonton on Wednesday August 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, saying programs aimed at getting people sober have too often been neglected in favour of harm reduction, has announced more than $80 million in funding for 4,000 spaces to treat those with addictions.

Kenney said Wednesday the money is part of the United Conservative Party’s campaign commitment to spend $140 million to improve addiction and mental-health care during an opioid crisis.

“Harm reduction efforts certainly have a place within the spectrum of public-health responses to the soaring opioid death rate, but not at the expense of life-saving treatment and recovery,” Kenney told the Recovery Capital Conference of Canada in Calgary on Wednesday.

“We should never set one up against the other.”

The Alberta government appointed a panel last month to look into the socio-economic impacts of safe drug consumption sites on communities and businesses. It has said it would not consider the health benefits or social issues surrounding drug abuse, because there is already enough information on those.

Kenney said the treatment funding, which is to be rolled out over four years, is separate from that review and the money isn’t being reallocated from any harm-reduction initiatives.

Some of the money is to go toward new treatment beds, while some is meant for existing spots that have been underused or sit empty because they haven’t been funded, Kenney said.

READ MORE: On National Day of Action, expert says overdose crisis is not about pain

NDP MLA Heather Sweet said supervised consumption sites have a 100-per-cent success rate in reversing overdoses.

“SCS do more than keep people alive for another day,” she said in a statement. “For many people, SCS are the first point of contact with the health system for people suffering from addiction and this contact can be all people need to start down the path to recovery.”

Petra Schulz, whose 25-year-old son Danny died of a fentanyl overdose in 2014, said she hopes regulation will be strong enough and treatment options won’t be too limited.

“You assume that it always has to be abstinence-based, but for people — especially those struggling with opioid dependence — that is often not attainable and is indeed very risky because people relapse and die,” she said.

“We can’t stigmatize certain forms of treatment … If somebody can achieve recovery, that is great. But if somebody lives with the assistance of medication such as methadone or Suboxone along that spectrum, that is great.

“What is important is that the person is living and that they are functioning and that they have hope for the future.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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