Pubdate: Sun, 21 May 2017
Source: Calgary Sun, The (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Calgary Sun
Author: Bryan Passifiume
Page: 2


As fentanyl overdose deaths in Alberta rise, a Vancouver-based
advocate says Alberta would do well to follow her province's lead in
declaring opioid-related deaths a public health emergency.

On the front lines in B.C.'s battle against their ongoing overdose
crisis, Leslie McBain said Alberta's rising numbers of overdose deaths
isn't going to slow without decisive action from the provincial government.

"The number of deaths in Alberta is rising," she said. "It's insane
and inhumane to not do something about it."

McBain is a founding member of Moms Stop The Harm - mothers who have
lost children to substance abuse and advocates for change in how
Canada deals with those struggling with drug addiction. Her son Jordan
died in 2014 after a years-long struggle with opioid addiction, a
tragedy she's turned into passion for helping those whose lives have
been turned upside down by drug abuse.

Numbers released Friday by Alberta Health reported a jump in fentanyl
deaths with 119 over the first three months - up 61% in the first
quarter of 2017 from the same period last year.

As well, emergency room visits related to fentanyl and opioid
overdoses have also spiked 6% per quarter since 2014.

This has renewed calls for Alberta's health minister to follow B.C.'s
lead in declaring a public health emergency - a move McBain says has
had a positive impact.

"It's given us a good toehold," she said. "It's a statement - it's
about getting awareness into the province."

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann has been vocal in his calls for the
government to declare an emergency, saying a lot more work needs to be
done by the province to create a coordinated approach to tackle
overdose deaths.

"It's really about making it a priority," he said.

"It needs to be across government departments and with non-government
organizations, a clear plan that includes everyone."

He said focused leadership is critical in getting ahead of the crisis,
and called on the province to do more to build an evidence-based plan
that properly addresses both addiction and mental health.

B.C. made the declaration last April in an effort to slow the alarming
number of overdose deaths in the province - an epidemic that's
spreading to other parts of the country.

"It's a profound tear in the fabric of Canada to have this many people
affected," McBain said.

"There's always been drugs, there's always been overdoses - but with
the introduction of fentanyl into the mix … if it was just regular old
heroin, we wouldn't be seeing this."

Fentanyl has taken the reality of overdose deaths off of the streets
and into our homes, she said.

More deaths are being recorded among recreational drug users in the
suburbs - "weekend warriors" as McBain calls them - whose casual use
of illicit painkillers as a quick and fun high are turning
increasingly deadly.

As a result, inner-city "junkies" usually have better access to
addiction treatment options than those in outlying areas.

That's starting to change in B.C., where she said awareness is
changing attitudes and - most importantly - making resources more available.

While she's happy with the change, she's heartbroken that deaths
continue to rise - 919 in the 12-month period after the declaration
was made.

"It's frustrating to work on this for a year and see deaths go up,"
she said.

"But if you step back and look at the big picture, it's doing

Alberta can learn a lot from how B.C. approached the crisis, she

Bureaucracy and politics resulted in frustratingly little movement,
but as time went on the increased awareness proved invaluable.

Having the ear of decision-makers is another positive impact said
McBain, who's had the opportunity to share her story with the prime
minister and federal Health Minister Jane Philpott.

"We make sure we can, at every opportunity, talk to politicians - our
stories are the most powerful thing we have," she said.

"They are listening, so now's the time for Alberta's politicians to
start paying attention."
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