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Commission presents plan to help avoid opioid overdoses

Minister's Opioid Emergency Response Commission is urging further action from the Alberta government to save lives during opioid crisis

Petra Schulz, co-founder of advocacy group 'Moms Stop the Harm,' holds a photo of her son Danny Schulz, 25, who died after overdosing on fentanyl in 2014.

Kevin Tuong / For Metro

Petra Schulz, co-founder of advocacy group 'Moms Stop the Harm,' holds a photo of her son Danny Schulz, 25, who died after overdosing on fentanyl in 2014.

The Minister's Opioid Emergency Response Commission has put forward a series of new recommendations to reduce the harm caused by the opioid crisis, steps that could have saved advocate Petra Schulz's son from a fatal fentanyl overdose.

Danny Schulz, 25, was a recovering addict when he relapsed in April 2014. Danny died after taking what he thought was a synthetic opioid, “street oxy,” that was really pure fentanyl.

“He was not prepared for the toxicity of what he was taking,” said Schulz, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm advocacy group and member of the commission.

One of a dozen new recommendations put forward in February is to allow drug testing at supervised consumption sites, so users could know if their dose is tainted with something more sinister.

Dr. Elaine Hyshka, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta and co-chair of the commission, warned Friday that the tests are not fail safe and there is a risk of false negatives, but a study conducted at the Insight supervised consumption site in Vancouver found users who had tested doses and learned their drugs are laced with opioids like fentanyl were more cautious in their consumption.

Schulz said not only could this help protect cocaine of methamphetamine users avoid unknowingly ingesting fentanyl, it would also allow for the tracking of “bad batches” of drugs.

Another key recommendation is allowing for overdose prevention sites, a temporary version of a supervised consumption site where users would still use drugs under medical supervision.

These sites, such as one established on the Kainai First Nation after a sharp increase in the number of overdoses in and around Lethbridge, could be set up relatively quickly in response to a crisis or as a stop gap measure while communities work to open permanent supervised consumption sites with wrap around services.

“They are a more flexible option for responding urgently to emerging crises,” said Kristin Klein, deputy medical officer of health for Alberta Health and acting co-chair of the commission.

Klein said the commission's work is about reducing harm and saving lives. In 2017 alone, 687 Albertans died from an opioid-related overdose, including 562 fatally overdosing on fentanyl.

“We know how critical it is to drive down the deaths from preventable overdoses and to make sure everyone who uses opioids receives easily accessible healthcare and services to keep them safe and alive,” said Klein. “Providing respectful, compassionate care to individuals who use substances is just as important as providing care to people with cancer or diabetes, a broken leg or mental illness.”

The commission has put forward 26 recommendations to date, all of which have been accepted by the provincial government which has earmarked $30 million to implement them.

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