Pubdate: Thu, 01 Jun 2017
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network
Author: Don Braid
Page: A4


There, the NDP finally said it. Alberta's fentanyl deaths are an

That's pretty obvious after 113 fatalities already in the first three
months of this year, after 363 in 2016. Overdoses now kill more people
in Alberta than traffic crashes and homicides combined.

In 2011, there were only six deaths from this scourge. Opioids have
become an undeniable public emergency.

It's also a suburban problem, not just a blight on the inner city.
Last year, 80 per cent of Calgary deaths were outside the city core.

On Wednesday, the government announced a new body called the
Minister's Opioid Emergency Response Commission.

That one word matters because the New Democrats have refused to
declare a formal emergency under the Public Health Act.

They say this isn't needed because the province already has the powers
necessary to deal with opioids.

But there was still a case for an emergency decree to show how serious
this is.

Now we have a new commission, with the forbidden word right in the
title, to deal with a scourge every politician and expert on offer
Wednesday called either "crisis," "emergency," or "epidemic."

The government has finally put Alberta on red alert. It's about

This is far more than just overdue symbolism. It's also an effort to
identify and implement specific solutions, from locations of clinics
to safe-injection sites and targeted distribution of antidotes.

The government will expand distribution of naloxone - which reverses
the effects of overdose - and begin to cover the cost of suboxone and
methadone - drugs that ease the effects of withdrawal - if they're
prescribed as opioid replacement therapy.

The panel is co-chaired by Dr. Karen Grimsrud, Alberta's chief medical
officer of health, and Dr. Elaine Hyshka, scientific director of the
inner-city health program at Edmonton's Royal Alexandra hospital.

Other members include Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, physician on the
hard-hit Kainai First Nation (Blood Tribe); and Petra Schultz, parent
advocate with Moms Stop the Harm.

The 14-member panel has a deep mix of street knowledge, medical
expertise, legal and police experience, and family understanding
gained through addiction and grief.

The question, as always with such panels, is whether the government
will pay the slightest attention to it. Alberta has a long history of
commissions appointed to bury problems, not solve them.

I don't see that happening with this body. The problem is too acute.
The government is also in serious need of help.

Only two weeks ago, Grimsrud called for expanded action against
opioids. She pointed to a large number of deaths outside the downtown
cores of both Calgary and Edmonton.

She conceded Wednesday that this isn't fully understood, although she
suggests it's partly due to recreational use.

This is a complex crisis that people stumble into from many
directions. Among the victims are first responders scarred by dealing
with drug-related death and danger.

B.C. is in even worse shape. The astonishing total of 922 people who
died from drug overdoses in 2016 is an increase of nearly 80 per cent
from the previous year.

Obviously, the declaration of a public emergency didn't do B.C. much

Many people assume that opioid users made their choice and deserve
what they get. When I've written about this before, the reaction has
been deeply hostile to victims.

But it's far more complex than that. Many people who become addicted
were prescribed opioids after surgery or painful injury. "Addiction is
not a choice - it's an illness," one panellist said.

That may have happened to ultra-wealthy golfer Tiger Woods, who was
arrested Monday for impaired driving. He was semiconscious and
incoherent, according to reports.

Woods' claims that he wasn't drinking proved correct. Tests found
opioids in his system - hardly surprising in an athlete who's had
eight knee and back surgeries.

This poison is everywhere now. Nobody has the answer to it. The NDP's
latest effort may be overdue, but it certainly looks focused, credible
and serious.
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