MOVE NOW ON DRUGS
If Albertans thought the worst of the opioidabuse crisis was in the rear-view mirror after the horrific number of fentanyl overdoses that marked 2015, the first few months of 2016 are providing a sobering wake-up call.
It bears repeating that 270 deaths in Alberta were linked to the painkiller fentanyl last year. Go back to 2012 and that number jumps to nearly 500 deaths provincewide. Hundreds of families, thousands of people, from all corners of the province and all walks of life, are living with the devastating impact of the drug.
It was just February when police warned it was a matter of time before W-18, a drug 100 times more toxic than fentanyl, showed up in Alberta. Wednesday, the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) confirmed what front line workers already had heard: W-18 is here.
This is nasty stuff and it raises the question: Is Alberta doing enough to deal with fentanyl and its dangerous cousin drugs?
British Columbia’s medical health officer declared a public health emergency last week after more than 200 fentanyl-related deaths during the first three months of 2016. It is rare for a Canadian health authority to trigger such an emergency for a situation unrelated to a communicable disease. But it is a strategy that will help get information on the record, mobilize resources and certainly commands attention.
Alberta hasn’t exactly been sitting on the sidelines. The province cleared the way for pharmacists to make naloxone, a medication to combat fentanyl overdose, available without a prescription after getting the OK from Health Canada.
On the enforcement side, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley announced the province will inject more cash to keep ALERT — an umbrella organization that tackles large cases tied to drugs, cybercrime and other issues — fully funded after federal funding ended.
But there is still a nagging sense that Alberta could — and should — do more in terms of drug treatment, harm reduction programs and efforts to understand what is happening at street level. The shared federal and provincial health responsibilities add complications, but there are some steps to take. Alberta needs a lab that could test for W-18, a substance Health Canada is working to add to its list of controlled drugs. There also is no harm in supporting a Tory private member’s bill to limit access to pill presses, too.
Every Alberta family needs to have frank conversations about the dangers of unknown street drugs. Avoiding an unpleasant subject helps no one but the people attempting to peddle dangerous substances to others who may be ignorant of the risks.