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Provincial budget promises $45 million increase for addiction and mental health supports

An advocate who lost her partner to a fentanyl overdose last year says the money should be used to ensure immediate addiction treatment is available

Last year, the provincial government made Naloxone kits, which can temporarily reverse an overdose, available to anyone at no cost from Alberta pharmacies.

Jennifer Friesen/For Metro

Last year, the provincial government made Naloxone kits, which can temporarily reverse an overdose, available to anyone at no cost from Alberta pharmacies.

After losing her partner to a fentanyl overdose last year, Rosalind Davis said she was pleased the provincial budget earmarked a $45 million increase for addiction and mental health supports to combat Alberta’s opioid crisis.

“It’s really great news, it’s definitely needed,” she said. Davis lost her partner Nathan Huggins-Rosenthal to a fentanyl overdose in 2016.

She said the cash should be used to ensure immediate, comprehensive treatment and resources are available to those suffering from an addiction.

“People who are suffering from opioid addictions are going to come into contact with the (health) system at various points. Those are opportunities that need to be utilized to engage people with treatment, and we need to be able to provide immediate access to medical treatments, such as opioid replacement therapy."

She believes Nathan’s life could have been saved if he had received timely treatment for his addiction, initially sparked by a prescribed painkiller.

“When there are solutions (that exist), it’s heartbreaking to know you lost a loved one because those weren’t in place,” Davis said, and added public attitudes – including those in government – must shift away from the negative stigma associated with addiction.

“We can’t allow these antiquated views of addiction to be influencing our approach towards treatment … it’s discrimination. Any delay in accessing (addiction) treatment is potentially sending someone to a death sentence,” she said.

On paper, 343 people died from fentanyl-related overdoses in the first three-quarters of 2016, although advocates suspect the actual number of opioid-related deaths is much higher.

During his speech on Thursday, Finance Minister Joe Ceci said the province is prioritizing community-based care and better coordination between hospitals and community resources.

The Valuing Mental Health Report, published in 2015, called for a leadership team to be established to address the crisis and coordinate the various government ministries involved. The report also said primary health care providers need to play a bigger role in prevention, early intervention, and continuity of care.

Part of the provincial increase will be allocated to implement the report’s recommendations, something Davis 'absolutely' agrees with.

“There’s no justification for delays. We need to be implementing a strategy now,” she said.

“We need to make sure (those with addictions) get the same health care dollars allocated as any other member of our society.”

The federal government announced $6 million in emergency funding for Alberta earlier this month. 

Amy Graves, founder of the Get Prescription Drugs Off The Street Society (GPDOTS), said the cash should flow towards helping Albertans who are already using or addicted to prescription opioids.

“The priority should be saving the lives of those using now,” Graves said. Her 21-year-old brother died in 2011 after taking what turned out to be hydromorphone at a party – he simply never woke up.

Last Friday, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman’s office confirmed the creation of supervised consumption sites and improving access to opioid replacement therapy are their priorities.

“The government needs to be accountable. They should let the public know a detailed budget of how this money is going to be used, and those affected should tell them what they need,” Graves said.

Alberta Health’s 2017-18 expenses are budgeted for $21.4 billion, a 3.2 per cent increase over last year.

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