Pubdate: Fri, 19 May 2017
Source: Lethbridge Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Lethbridge Herald
Author: Chris Spearman (Chris Spearman is the mayor of Lethbridge.)
Page: A6


We've all heard the very troubling news reports in Alberta and across
Canada about the growing problem of addiction to opioids, especially

Opioid addition is devastating families and causing an alarming number
of deaths among those who - knowingly or unknowingly - make the
mistake of using it. The issues associated with opioid addiction touch
many different agencies, institutions, public and social service
organizations. It touches families, and it touches

Lethbridge is not immune. Last fall, after hearing about what was
happening in our city, I asked a broad range of leaders and
organizations in our community to come together to collaborate on how
we can respond in the best way possible.

People responded immediately, and this group - which we refer to as
the Executive Leaders Coalition on Opioid Use - has been meeting
regularly since last November to share knowledge and insight and to
begin the substantial work of investigating how other cities around
the world are dealing with the array of social community issues that
stem from drug addiction.

I'm proud and encouraged that we're being proactive in developing
strategies to address this epidemic. The coalition includes
representatives from the health, police, justice, emergency medical,
post secondary, municipal, education and social service sectors.

Earlier this month, members of this coalition presented to a Community
Issues Committee meeting of city council members to inform us about
the current scope and impact of opioid abuse in our community. They
also outlined the collaborative effort that's underway to develop
strategies to best respond to the local situation.

What we heard is that addiction to opioids such as fentanyl - a
dangerous and highly addictive form of opioid - has increased rapidly
in the past four years. This is resulting locally in alarming
increases in overdose deaths, emergency room visits, and treatment of
overdose victims by emergency medical responders. Dr. Karin Goodison,
the Medical Officer of Health for Alberta Health Services (AHS) -
South Zone, told us that the rates of opioid addiction are epidemic in
nature and are a major public health issue for our province. According
to AHS statistics, there were six fentanyl overdose deaths across
Alberta in 2011 compared to 117 in 2014. The following year, the
number of fentanyl overdose deaths more than doubled to 257 and rose
to 349 in 2016.

We were also told that opioid addiction afflicts people of all ages
from all walks of life but that men between the ages of 2539 accounted
for nearly half all fentanyl overdose deaths in Alberta last year.

We also heard that responding to opioid overdoses has gone from being
rare to being a daily occurrence for our Lethbridge Fire and EMS
responders. The Lethbridge Police Service has seen corresponding rises
in property crime and drug-related violent crime as well as public
intoxication, public drug use, aggressive and unpredictable behaviour,
and the incidence of drug debris such as used needles being left in
public areas.

Police told us that although they continue to respond to investigate,
arrest and charge those responsible, arrests alone can't solve the
problem of crime driven by addictions; crime and negative behaviour
will continue until the cycle of addiction is broken with support
services that help people with addictions, including health, social
services, education and justice stakeholders.

Locally, harm reduction efforts are led by ARCHES and focus on
preventing deaths, the transmission of diseases, and injuries
associated with the use of street drugs. The coalition is in the midst
of a preliminary community needs assessment to determine whether a
safe consumption site with comprehensive in-house support services
would be an effective way to deal with the opioid addiction issue in
Lethbridge. A report, including recommendations, is expected from the
coalition by this summer.

* * *

Residential property assessment and tax notices were sent out this
week and should be arriving in the mail very soon. We know tax time
brings questions from some residents about how their property is
assessed and how their tax amounts are calculated. The 2017
residential property tax is $1,056.11 per $100,000 of assessed value.
So if your home is assessed at $300,000, for example, your property
tax this year will be $3,168.33 ($1,056.11 x 3).

We want it to be as easy as possible for you to find information like
this as well as information on how your taxes are used to provide the
array of services we all rely on to make our city a safe, inviting
place to live and work. You can find helpful information online at but
if you still have questions, you can also call 403-3203950 to talk to
a member of our Tax and Assessment department staff.

* * *

This was a busy week for city council. We met as Finance Committee for
deliberations on what projects to include in the city's next capital
budget, the 20182027 Capital Improvement Program (CIP). In addition to
utility, transportation, parks and long-term planning projects, we
debated a number of community projects, and after considering all of
the projects, we collectively decided which ones to recommend for
inclusion in the 20182027 CIP and which ones to leave out. It's
expected that Finance Committee will refer the proposed 2018-2027 CIP
to the May 23 meeting of city council for formal approval.

As I mentioned in last month's column, a fundamental philosophy in our
capital budgeting is that we first ensure we take care of what we own
before we think about funding things like new community facilities and
other infrastructure. At the end of our CIP deliberations this week, I
believe we ended up with a capital budget that strikes the right
balance - with the limited capital funding available - that will
ensure existing infrastructure is well maintained and approval of new
community projects that will enhance the quality of life in our city.
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MAP posted-by: Matt