May 26th, 2017

Why isn’t gov’t taking action on opioid crisis?


By Letter to the Editor on January 4, 2017.

If an obscure, yet preventable disease was killing our children at a rate of one death every 18 hours, there is no doubt Albertans would see an immediate and overwhelming response from government, particularly in the collection and reporting of information. Why then the modest response and slow reporting of opiate-related deaths?

Understanding the scope of a health crisis and the nature of its rapidly changing dynamics is a pillar of public health practice. Yet, the Chief Medical Examiner and the Provincial Health Officer have indicated they will only report the number of opiate-related deaths in Alberta every three months.

Why? Because they don’t have the resources to report more frequently and because they don’t believe it will make any difference.

I find this troubling on two counts. First, why does the Medical Examiner’s office not have sufficient doctors to keep up with the deaths?

Second, more frequent statistics, especially death and emergency room visits for opiates, provide both a sense of urgency as well as a clear signal to frontline workers about what is working and what is not.

If Alberta Health was reporting on the wait-time for those seeking medical care, it would become graphically clear how a four to eight-week wait to access treatment is costing lives.

Police and EMS, too, have indicated their growing frustration at the numbers and the “revolving door” they experience with people who are:

a) Not getting the quality or timely access to medical supports they need for what is a long-term mental illness and addiction;

b) Not getting the psychological and social supports they need to recover control of their lives;

c) Not getting the material supports (stable housing, food, living allowance) to regain mental and physical health, confidence, independence and return to the workforce.

Mental illness and addictions are not fundamentally police issues – they are medical issues.

This crisis is now in its fourth year and the number of preventable deaths continues to skyrocket. It is long past time to acknowledge that more targeted resources are required.

We need harm reduction and supervised treatment and we absolutely must have a reporting regime that reflects the urgency and priority of this complex epidemic.

Lives will be saved, health-care dollars will be saved, and our dedicated police and EMS workers can focus on the other legal and medical issues they are trained to deal with.

Dr. David Swann

Leader, Alberta Liberal Opposition

MLA, Calgary-Mountain View

3 Responses to “Why isn’t gov’t taking action on opioid crisis?”

  1. phlushie says:

    Dr. Swann, why dig at the government for this trivial pursuit of the Darwin principle. Maybe the question to ask is why do we administer Narcan free of charge to overdosed drug addicts when people and children suffering from allergies have to pay outlandish prices for and epi pen. That is the question to ask, those that self administer drugs just keep on doing it for as long as they survive.

  2. biff says:

    phlush – your query is valid, and no doubt often similarly considered by many. adult choices come with consequences, good and bad, but adults must remain free to pursue their choices, so long as such choices do not affect the freedom, safety, property and privacy of others. your most glaring point here is why narcan be free and epi pens an outrageous cost. i further agree that some people will explore their death wish, and there is only so much others can do to help. the question then is to what extent.
    dr. swann provides some valid concerns as stated in his a,b,c listing, and in noting illness/addictions are not really police issues. as a society, a collective and caring one, there should be education and supports in place and without retribution.
    insofar as opioids, the ones causing the most problem at present are synthetic and far more dangerous than real opium. because the pills on the streets are not legal, folks using these pills do not know the actual dosage they are going to be using at a given time, and hence the overdoses. as much as one would like to write these users off, gov’t – a reflection of us all – and big pharm, supported always by gov’t, are at the root of the most serious fallout from hard drug use. we are sold on synthetic products only because these can be patented. making the natural choices illegal also supports big pharm. illegal laws that make intoxicants illegal further drives up costs of the natural options, which further makes big pharm’s killer drugs more viable and available; this further costs society due to the fallout from the addicted paying ridiculously inflated prices for agricultural products that really are rather inexpensive to grow. consequently, the addicted overdose and they often must practice prostitution or criminal behaviours in order to feed their addiction. it would cost society less to remove these illegal laws that only support big pharm and their synthetic poisons. it would restore a good measure of humanity to those that for, whatever their reasons, feel they should use medications that may prove addictive. one thing to be addicted to something, and quite another to be treated as criminal for it, and to have to resort to prostituting oneself or to actually committing criminal acts in order to medicate oneself.

    • triuareader says:

      First of all, let’s clear something up right now about the allergy medications for kids. The epi-pens that has been mentioned here are expensive, however, they have never gone up in price in the past 15-20 years here in Canada and do not require a prescription IF you don’t care to submit to a 3rd party insurer. In the case that you do wish to submit to a 3rd party insurer then, yes, you need a dr’s prescription verifying the need for the medication and it is then up to each insurance coverage plan weather or not to pay for it. Otherwise simply walk into your local pharmacy and the pharmacist will sell you an epi-pen for roughly $100. Not the few hundred south of the border. Second there is also the allergy medications that we all take over the counter.
      Now that’s cleared up, I’d like to discuss “Big Pharma” as was previously discussed. You do realize that synthetic “copies” medications are based on their originals so closely that they are not allowed to go into the market until they are proven safe and bioavailble/viable in the human body. Meaning that there is extensive testing before these medications even get to a pharmacy and to your little white bag. Health Canada has one of the strictest set of standards when it comes to the release of medications. Once those medications leave a pharmacy there is little control to what can be done with human behaviour (ie taking their medication as per prescribed.) The dr will put restrictions on releasing the medications and pharmacies will adhere but patients will continue to “drop pills down the sink” or “spill them in the car” or “their dog will eat them” believe me, the Dr., nurse, pharmacist and other medical staff have heard it all and some even more unique ones. The “Big Pharma” that I’m really concerned about is the one where the chemists are self taught and really don’t know or even give a squat of the dose that they are putting in their little green pills in that pill making kit that they ordered on Amazon. That’s the Big Pharma that’s killing people, adults and more and more kids. That’s the one that is scarier that S***. That’s why there’s free Nalaxone kits in your local pharmacies because what else are you going to do? How do you fight an idiot with a loaded gun like that but to have some sort of tourniquet to help staunch the death?
      Dr. Swan, and I emphasize the Dr. as he is one and has worked in the health care system and all it’s flaws, is right. There are such huge gaps in our health care system. Our health care has left the mental health of these people largely to the police and justice system. The mental healthcare in our country and province is of the lowest in the world. It’s not horrible if one knows where and how to seek it out but it’s not the easiest to obtain. This needs to be addressed. Not just for addicts but for all people. There needs to be a greater acceptance for the need to take care of our mental health and to help build a greater balance of overall good health. I’ve had plenty of experience in my life working with the sick, disabled and addicted and there I’ve seen a growing trend of many people suffering from depression and psychosis and it makes me wonder how many are getting the counselling and cognitive support as well as a simple pill handed to them. It needs to be addressed.


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