By Hon. Mike Ellis on August 28, 2021.
Addiction is an illness that continue to impact our communities. Opioid-related addiction, in particular, has taken the lives of far too many Albertans. Prior to entering politics I spent 12 years in the Calgary Police Service (CPS) where I was focused on community policing, which included working with some of Calgary’s most vulnerable.
During my time with CPS I worked with thousands of Albertans from every walk of life. I saw time and time again people struggling with the illness of addiction and losing their lives because of it.
Addiction is an illness and with the appropriate treatment recovery can and should be expected.
I’m no stranger to helping Albertans find a new life in recovery when they experience that moment of clarity where change seems possible.
I have also seen many lives lost because treatment and recovery services were not readily available at that critical time.
Allowing people with a treatable illness to continue getting sicker, at the expense of our communities, families, and individual health is completely unacceptable.
Alberta’s government has not been shy to tackle addiction head on. We are ensuring more than 4,000 Albertans can access life-saving treatment and recovery services annually free of charge, we are increasing access to evidence based-medications for opioid addiction, and we are increasing the quality of services that reduce harm before someone enters recovery.
Part of fighting addiction means ensuring all services are regulated and adhere to high quality standards. In November of 2019, Alberta became the first province in Canada to regulate residential addiction treatment centers to protect clients and raise the standard of care.
On Sept. 30, Alberta will also become the first province to introduce quality standards for supervised consumption services. These standards will ensure clients have access to consistent, high-quality service across the province. Quality standards will ensure that supervised consumption sites are acting how they were intended, as an entry point into the healthcare system.
Clients will be able to expect consumption sites to partner with treatment and recovery programs, ensuring they get the care they need to improve their lives sooner rather than later. To support this, providers will be required to assist clients in obtaining a personal health number in order to access the rest of the healthcare system immediately when they need it.
Clients will need to provide informed consent prior to utilizing services and have access to things like washrooms while they are there.
This is a common sense step forward to ensure that sites where people inject dangerous substances are properly regulated and managed to protect vulnerable Albertans, improve community safety, and offer individuals the best hope for an entry point to recovery.
All Albertans struggling with addiction deserve access to high-quality, effective services that ensure they are protected. This is what the NDP believed when they introduced licensing for residential treatment. We agreed and so we carried it forward.
It’s unfortunate that now the NDP and their supporters don’t believe that quality standards should be in place for services that supervise people using dangerous and deadly substances; they don’t believe that staff should be trained to manage medical emergencies and require supervision by a regulated health professional; they don’t believe that staff supervising life threatening activities should be required to complete a vulnerable sector background check.
Perhaps what is most confusing is why they don’t believe operators of consumption sites should be accountable to the communities which they serve by having good neighbour agreements in place. Communities deserve services that are committed to being good neighbors and renew that commitment regularly.
As we move forward, Albertans accessing supervised consumption can expect high-quality healthcare with consistent support to enter treatment and recovery; communities surrounding sites can expect safer, cleaner neighbourhoods; and the province as a whole can expect a healthier population contributing to the common goal of building a bright future for Alberta.
Services that reduce harm will remain an important part of Alberta’s recovery-oriented addiction and mental health system. We will continue to meet people where they are at, but we will not leave them there. We will not write anyone off. We will help them get their lives and their families back because recovery is possible.
Hon. Mike Ellis is the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addiction in Alberta.