News / Calgary

No Alberta state of emergency over fentanyl: province

Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne says a state of emergency would be more effective under highly communicable disease outbreak, despite plea from MLA David Swann

Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann called on the NDP government to declare a public state of emergency over fentanyl on Wednesday.

Jeremy Simes / For Metro

Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann called on the NDP government to declare a public state of emergency over fentanyl on Wednesday.

The Alberta NDP government is sticking to its guns by not calling a public health state of emergency over the current fentanyl crisis. 

On Wednesday, Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann urged the NDP government to enact a public health state of emergency to better address the province’s current opioid crisis. 

Swann said the government’s current approach isn’t improving death rates, as this year’s current fentanyl-related death toll is 153, which represents dates from January 1 to June 30. That number is slightly more than 2015’s January-to-June death toll of 139. 

“What we’re doing in Alberta isn’t working,” Swann told reporters. “We’re doing too little, too late. We don’t have a real-time number of deaths.”

In April, Metro reported the government declined to declare a state of emergency after it sought legal advice last fall that suggested it has all the power necessary to address the crisis. 

B.C. became the first province in April to declare a state of emergency over its own opioid crisis. 

In an interview Wednesday, Payne reiterated the government's belief that a public health state of emergency over addictions and mental health isn’t warranted. 

She said measures for a state of emergency under Alberta legislation contain “extraordinary powers” that include entering a private home without a warrant; ordering the closure of businesses and schools; seizures of property without a warrant; and arrests and detentions without a warrant. 

Payne said those measures would be more effective under a “highly communicable” disease outbreak.

“We just don’t feel that it’s appropriate when responding to a serious addictions and mental health issue,” she said. “It’s an issue of addiction and our government is choosing to focus on treatment, whether that be through detox beds or opioid dependency treatment.”

Swann said the public health state of emergency would let the government free up room in hospitals and hotels so that more Albertans can be treated.

“We would start seeing action tomorrow,” he said. 

Swann also charged the NDP for how it publishes fentanyl-related death data. He said data isn’t published weekly and doesn’t include characteristics like age, gender and marital status.

However, Payne said the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner receives data regularly, and It includes such characteristics. But those characteristics, she said, aren’t made public to ensure privacy. 

“All of the information that we need is being collected by public health authorities,” she said. 

Compared to how it was previously reported, fentanyl-related death data now includes the number of deaths in particular Alberta cities.

The province has also provided funding for the opening of 18 new detox beds in Medicine Hat, three new beds for children under the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act in Calgary, 20 beds for adults in Red Deer, and six to eight new beds in Lethbridge.

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