Last week, Alberta premier Jason Kenney sent out the following quote tweet:
In it, he expresses gladness at a recent decline in opioid deaths in Alberta. He then goes on to attribute this decline to Alberta’s “recovery oriented system of care”.
The tweet he quotetweeted was part of a Twitter thread posted by Eric Engler, the press secretary to Mike Ellis, Alberta’s associate minister of mental health and addiction.
(Who, incidentally, blocked me because I told him that Alberta should “decriminalize all drugs, guarantee safe supply, provide supervised consumption sites, and increase detox spaces”. But I digress.)
In that thread, Engler claimed that
Opioid addiction related deaths in Alberta continued to decline in July 2022 by another 8% month over month. Opioid related deaths are now down 47% since their peak late last year.
Ellis’s department also published on the Government of Alberta website a press release on the same topic, outlining several of the same things that Engler claimed in his Twitter thread.
Now the claim Engler is making, particularly about opioid deaths this past July being 8% lower than June and down 47% from last November are true. However, I think they require some additional context, in case we read too much into them.
Since January 2016, the highest number of opioid-related deaths Alberta has seen was last November, when it hit 174. The next month, it was 172.
This past July, that number dropped to 92, and the month before, it was 100.
There’s no denying those numbers. But take a look at the number of opioid-related deaths seen in Alberta in every July since 2016.
Even though we’re significantly lower than we were last July (or even July 2020), July 2022 still had the third highest number of opioid-related deaths of any of those 7 Julys.
In fact, July 2022 was 50.8% higher than July 2019 and 31.4% higher than the highest July under the NDP.
And it’s interesting that the UCP are claiming this as their victory. Let’s ignore the fact for a moment that we’re still significantly higher than pre-pandemic numbers.
Take a look at the monthly opioid-death numbers over the last 3.5 years, basically since just before the UCP took office.
Clearly, deaths had risen while they’ve been in power, the last 5 months notwithstanding.
So, if they’re going to take credit for the recent drop in deaths, then surely they need to take responsibility for the preceding rise in deaths, too.
But we never saw a press release indicating that.
I just want to point out that just because there was a decrease doesn’t automatically mean that it was a result of UCP policies. That isn’t the only cause of fewer opioid deaths. Limited supply, for example, could be a reason. or more people consuming drugs in the presence of other people. Or a supply that is less toxic. The list goes on.
If the UCP is going to claim that their policies are directly responsible for this decline, I’d love to see some evidence of that, evidence that is able to rule out every other possibility.
Because until we see that, it’s presumptuous to assume that policies that are focused on recovery rather than harm reduction are what’s causing fewer deaths.