Alberta funds 8,500 addiction treatment spaces while seeing record drug deaths

Last week, the Alberta government announced that they had passed 8,500 addiction treatment spaces. But their singular focus isn’t fixing the drug crisis.

Last week, the Alberta government announced that since being elected, they’ve funded over 8,000 annual treatment spaces in the province.

In September 2019, the province promised that they would fund 4,000 such spaces by 2023. According to last week’s announcement, they have already met that goal:

In 2019, Alberta’s government committed to funding 4,000 annual treatment spaces. That commitment has been exceeded two years ahead of schedule.

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The number of publicly funded treatment spaces totals 8,565 and will be in various communities throughout Alberta.

Fort McLeod832

In addition to these, there were 65 spaces funded within the South Region. You can find the entire list—as well as the organizations receiving the funding—here.

These numbers include 5,255 detox spaces in Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McLeod, and Standoff.

During the media announcement in September 2019, Alberta premier Jason Kenney apparently said at one point:

“Harm-reduction efforts certainly have their place but not at the expense of life treatment and recovery . . . We should not be cherry-picking the approach.”

Interestingly, in last week’s announcement, the only mention of harm reduction efforts were an overdose prevention app for Calgary users only, a nasal naloxone pilot in Edmonton, and some funding for opioid agonist therapy.

Which is weird, given that Kenney specifically said that harm reduction efforts “certainly have their place”. And what place is that? What about other harm reduction efforts, such as supervised consumption?

Since taking office, the SCS has cancelled plans for supervised consumption sites in Medicine Hat and Red Deer, as well as a mobile SCS in the Forest Lawn neighbourhood of Calgary. They also defunded the 21-seat SCS in Lethbridge, replacing it with a 3-seat mobil unit.

It’s been more than a year since the UCP defunded the Lethbridge SCS, and the death rate here has increased. During the 12 months since the UCP defunded the Lethbridge SCS, there were 50 drug deaths in Lethbridge. That’s the highest number of deaths the city of 100,000 has seen in any 12-month period since the province started tracking drug usage in 2016.

When Kenney made the September 2019 announcement, at one point, he also said that “The Alberta government in the past has failed to fund adequately treatment . . . Harm reduction alone is not the answer.”

And I agree with him.

I don’t believe that the previous government provided enough treatment spaces to adequately address the drug crisis. Nor do I believe that harm reduction alone is the answer.

The problem, however, is that Kenney and the rest of his UCP government seem to be replacing harm reduction with treatment.

Where the NDP government failed to provide a comprehensive response to the drug crisis by focusing primarily on some aspects of harm reduction, the UCP is now doing the same thing by going in the opposite direction: focusing primarily on recovery and treatment.

In the meantime, the drug crisis is getting worse. More people are dying. Drugs are getting more potent and dangerous. And now more people are using drugs in public.

Lethbridge has 8 detox beds. It’s been that way for years. Under both the UCP and the NDP. And given that detox is necessary for admission to most treatment facilities (which are primarily abstinence based), it’s going to be a long time before things change for the better in Lethbridge, let alone in the rest of the province.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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