Tack­ling the prob­lem of opi­oids

Lethbridge Herald - - READER'S FORUM -

We’ve all heard the very trou­bling news re­ports in Al­berta and across Canada about the grow­ing prob­lem of ad­dic­tion to opi­oids, es­pe­cially fen­tanyl.

Opi­oid ad­di­tion is dev­as­tat­ing fam­i­lies and caus­ing an alarm­ing num­ber of deaths among those who — know­ingly or un­know­ingly — make the mis­take of us­ing it. The is­sues as­so­ci­ated with opi­oid ad­dic­tion touch many dif­fer­ent agen­cies, in­sti­tu­tions, pub­lic and so­cial ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions. It touches fam­i­lies, and it touches in­di­vid­u­als.

Leth­bridge is not im­mune. Last fall, af­ter hear­ing about what was hap­pen­ing in our city, I asked a broad range of lead­ers and or­ga­ni­za­tions in our com­mu­nity to come to­gether to col­lab­o­rate on how we can re­spond in the best way pos­si­ble.

Peo­ple re­sponded im­me­di­ately, and this group — which we re­fer to as the Ex­ec­u­tive Lead­ers Coali­tion on Opi­oid Use — has been meet­ing reg­u­larly since last Novem­ber to share knowl­edge and in­sight and to be­gin the sub­stan­tial work of in­ves­ti­gat­ing how other cities around the world are deal­ing with the ar­ray of so­cial com­mu­nity is­sues that stem from drug ad­dic­tion.

I’m proud and en­cour­aged that we’re be­ing proac­tive in de­vel­op­ing strate­gies to ad­dress this epi­demic. The coali­tion in­cludes rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the health, po­lice, jus­tice, emer­gency med­i­cal, post­sec­ondary, mu­nic­i­pal, ed­u­ca­tion and so­cial ser­vice sec­tors.

Ear­lier this month, mem­bers of this coali­tion pre­sented to a Com­mu­nity Is­sues Com­mit­tee meet­ing of city coun­cil mem­bers to in­form us about the cur­rent scope and im­pact of opi­oid abuse in our com­mu­nity. They also out­lined the col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort that’s un­der­way to de­velop strate­gies to best re­spond to the lo­cal sit­u­a­tion.

What we heard is that ad­dic­tion to opi­oids such as fen­tanyl — a dan­ger­ous and highly ad­dic­tive form of opi­oid — has in­creased rapidly in the past four years. This is re­sult­ing lo­cally in alarm­ing in­creases in over­dose deaths, emer­gency room vis­its, and treat­ment of over­dose vic­tims by emer­gency med­i­cal re­spon­ders. Dr. Karin Goodison, the Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer of Health for Al­berta Health Ser­vices (AHS) - South Zone, told us that the rates of opi­oid ad­dic­tion are epi­demic in na­ture and are a ma­jor pub­lic health is­sue for our prov­ince. Ac­cord­ing to AHS sta­tis­tics, there were six fen­tanyl over­dose deaths across Al­berta in 2011 com­pared to 117 in 2014. The fol­low­ing year, the num­ber of fen­tanyl over­dose deaths more than dou­bled to 257 and rose to 349 in 2016.

We were also told that opi­oid ad­dic­tion af­flicts peo­ple of all ages from all walks of life but that men be­tween the ages of 2539 ac­counted for nearly half all fen­tanyl over­dose deaths in Al­berta last year.

We also heard that re­spond­ing to opi­oid over­doses has gone from be­ing rare to be­ing a daily oc­cur­rence for our Leth­bridge Fire and EMS re­spon­ders. The Leth­bridge Po­lice Ser­vice has seen cor­re­spond­ing rises in prop­erty crime and drug-re­lated vi­o­lent crime as well as pub­lic in­tox­i­ca­tion, pub­lic drug use, ag­gres­sive and un­pre­dictable be­hav­iour, and the in­ci­dence of drug de­bris such as used nee­dles be­ing left in pub­lic ar­eas.

Po­lice told us that although they con­tinue to re­spond to in­ves­ti­gate, ar­rest and charge those re­spon­si­ble, ar­rests alone can’t solve the prob­lem of crime driven by addictions; crime and neg­a­tive be­hav­iour will con­tinue un­til the cy­cle of ad­dic­tion is bro­ken with sup­port ser­vices that help peo­ple with addictions, in­clud­ing health, so­cial ser­vices, ed­u­ca­tion and jus­tice stake­hold­ers.

Lo­cally, harm re­duc­tion ef­forts are led by ARCHES and fo­cus on pre­vent­ing deaths, the trans­mis­sion of dis­eases, and in­juries as­so­ci­ated with the use of street drugs. The coali­tion is in the midst of a pre­lim­i­nary com­mu­nity needs as­sess­ment to de­ter­mine whether a safe con­sump­tion site with com­pre­hen­sive in-house sup­port ser­vices would be an ef­fec­tive way to deal with the opi­oid ad­dic­tion is­sue in Leth­bridge. A re­port, in­clud­ing rec­om­men­da­tions, is ex­pected from the coali­tion by this sum­mer.

• • • Res­i­den­tial prop­erty as­sess­ment and tax no­tices were sent out this week and should be ar­riv­ing in the mail very soon. We know tax time brings ques­tions from some res­i­dents about how their prop­erty is as­sessed and how their tax amounts are cal­cu­lated. The 2017 res­i­den­tial prop­erty tax is $1,056.11 per $100,000 of as­sessed value. So if your home is as­sessed at $300,000, for ex­am­ple, your prop­erty tax this year will be $3,168.33 ($1,056.11 x 3).

We want it to be as easy as pos­si­ble for you to find in­for­ma­tion like this as well as in­for­ma­tion on how your taxes are used to pro­vide the ar­ray of ser­vices we all rely on to make our city a safe, invit­ing place to live and work. You can find help­ful in­for­ma­tion on­line at

but if you still have ques­tions, you can also call 403-3203950 to talk to a mem­ber of our Tax and As­sess­ment de­part­ment staff.

• • • This was a busy week for city coun­cil. We met as Fi­nance Com­mit­tee for de­lib­er­a­tions on what projects to in­clude in the city’s next cap­i­tal bud­get, the 20182027 Cap­i­tal Im­prove­ment Pro­gram (CIP). In ad­di­tion to util­ity, trans­porta­tion, parks and long-term plan­ning projects, we de­bated a num­ber of com­mu­nity projects, and af­ter con­sid­er­ing all of the projects, we col­lec­tively de­cided which ones to rec­om­mend for in­clu­sion in the 20182027 CIP and which ones to leave out. It’s ex­pected that Fi­nance Com­mit­tee will re­fer the pro­posed 2018-2027 CIP to the May 23 meet­ing of city coun­cil for for­mal ap­proval.

As I men­tioned in last month’s col­umn, a fun­da­men­tal phi­los­o­phy in our cap­i­tal bud­get­ing is that we first en­sure we take care of what we own be­fore we think about funding things like new com­mu­nity fa­cil­i­ties and other in­fra­struc­ture. At the end of our CIP de­lib­er­a­tions this week, I be­lieve we ended up with a cap­i­tal bud­get that strikes the right bal­ance — with the lim­ited cap­i­tal funding avail­able — that will en­sure ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture is well main­tained and ap­proval of new com­mu­nity projects that will en­hance the qual­ity of life in our city.

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