Is the UCP recovery-based approach working?

For the last 3 years, Alberta’s government has said that they’re focusing on a recovery-based approach to deal with the drug crisis. But is it making a difference?

In November 2019, just months after being elected in the 2019 provincial election, the UCP established a mental health and addictions advisory council to “recommend strategic actions to increase access to recovery-oriented addiction and mental health services.”

A year ago, the government published the recommendations from that panel.

With the recent publication of Alberta Health Services’ 2021–2022 annual report, I was curious what sort of impact a recovery-based approach is having on access to treatment.

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According to their annual report, AHS saw 9,254 admissions into addiction residential treatment and detoxification programmes. The previous year, there were 8,166 admissions, an increase of 1,088, or 13.3%.

Here’s how things look for admissions into these programmes during the first 3 years under the UCP.


So while, admissions into treatment and detox programmes has increased in their third year in power, compared to their second year, it’s still lower than in their first year. In fact, there were 1,102 fewer admissions in 2021–2022 than there were in 2019–2020, a 10.6% decrease.

Alberta saw an average of 9,258.67 admissions each year into treatment and detox programmes while the UCP have been in power.

But how did things look under the NDP? Surely the larger focus on recovery must mean that admissions were lower under the NDP, right? Especially when we consider that the number of addiction treatment beds has increased from 970 in March 2019 to 1,258 in March 2022.

Here is what admissions into treatment and detox programmes looked like during the 4 years the NDP were in power.

2015–2016 10,919

AHS averaged 10,795.5 admissions a year under the NDP.

In other words, under the NDP, AHS saw over 1,500 more admissions per year, on average, to addictions residential treatment and detox programmes than they have seen under the UCP.

Which seems odd. Shouldn’t a recovery-based approach be leading to more admissions to recovery-based programmes, not fewer?

Plus, check out these charts from the provincial government’s Substance use surveillance system.

Not only have admissions to treatment and detox programmes decreased under the UCP, drug-related deaths, drug-related emergency department visits, drug-related hospitalizations, and EMS responses to drug-related events have all increased.

So the reduction in admissions probably isn’t a result of fewer people using drugs overall. It’s almost as if cancelling harm-reduction programmes (such as closing supervised consumption sites in Lethbridge, Calgary, and Edmonton) didn’t funnel people into the recovery system.

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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.

2 replies on “Is the UCP recovery-based approach working?”

Couldn’t this have been impacted by Covid policies? The policy was implemented during the lockdowns.

It could’ve been, but it’s been over 2 years now since the public health restrictions were entirely lifted, so it’s unlikely that they’d still be having that effect.

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