Sup­ply­ing ad­dicts with drugs not the an­swer

De­pen­dency on il­licit street nar­cotics is highly treat­able, Ja­son Luan writes.

Calgary Herald - - OPINION -

I read with in­ter­est re­cently the sug­ges­tion of a so-called “safe sup­ply” of il­licit drugs.

Ad­vo­cates for the lib­eral use of hard drugs have ex­pressed their opin­ions in the me­dia that il­licit drugs “may” be­come more po­tent, and are cam­paign­ing for a tax­payer-funded sup­ply.

Their claim that the il­le­gal hard drug sup­ply is more toxic than it has been in re­cent years is not grounded in ev­i­dence. Drug in­tel­li­gence sources from both the Cal­gary Po­lice Ser­vice and Ed­mon­ton Po­lice Ser­vice con­firm the drug sup­ply is no more toxic now than it has been in the past.

Il­licit drugs have al­ways been and will al­ways be deadly and dan­ger­ous. For peo­ple suf­fer­ing from ad­dic­tion, there is no safe sup­ply of ad­dic­tive nar­cotics.

Ad­dic­tion does not ex­ist in drugs; it ex­ists in peo­ple.

There­fore, the so­lu­tion ex­ists in peo­ple and not in tin­ker­ing with the drug sup­ply. Sup­ply­ing these nar­cotics to ad­dicts will not end the ad­dic­tion cri­sis in which we find our­selves. Let us not for­get this cur­rent cri­sis be­gan with doctors freely pre­scrib­ing opioids to the general pop­u­la­tion.

The Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Ad­dic­tion Medicine de­fines ad­dic­tion as a treat­able, chronic med­i­cal dis­ease in­volv­ing com­plex in­ter­ac­tions among brain cir­cuits, ge­net­ics, the en­vi­ron­ment, and an in­di­vid­ual’s life ex­pe­ri­ences. This ill­ness causes so­cial, spir­i­tual, bi­o­log­i­cal and psy­choso­cial is­sues that may in­volve trauma — none of which is treated by the pre­scrip­tion of opioids.

Ad­dic­tion is highly treat­able but of­ten left un­treated, which is why our govern­ment has com­mit­ted $140 mil­lion to make treat­ment and re­cov­ery avail­able to all Al­ber­tans strug­gling with ad­dic­tion in ev­ery cor­ner of our prov­ince.

It is why we have com­mit­ted to the cre­ation of 4,000 pub­licly funded spa­ces for Al­ber­tans to be­gin a heal­ing jour­ney — of which we have achieved more than 3,000 ad­di­tional spa­ces in just one year. And it is why we are part­ner­ing with high-qual­ity, na­tion­ally ac­cred­ited ser­vice providers who ad­dress ev­ery as­pect of ad­dic­tion.

It is our govern­ment’s pri­or­ity to en­sure peo­ple strug­gling with ad­dic­tion have ac­cess to world-class care, even dur­ing times of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, global pan­demics, and eco­nomic un­cer­tainty.

Never in Al­berta’s his­tory has it been eas­ier for peo­ple with ad­dic­tion to get treat­ment. Un­til re­cently, Al­ber­tans were lined up for months to get into treat­ment beds. Now, they can get into treat­ment within three to seven days.

This is a sig­nif­i­cant change to the con­tin­uum of care in our prov­ince. It is an ap­proach gain­ing recog­ni­tion across the coun­try for its com­pre­hen­sive and thought­ful ap­proach to treat­ing the dis­ease of ad­dic­tion.

This new Al­berta model does not, and will not, in­clude the un­eth­i­cal sup­ply of tax­payer-funded hard drugs to sup­port ad­dic­tion.

In the March 2020 edi­tion of The Cana­dian Jour­nal of Ad­dic­tion, the board of the Cana­dian So­ci­ety of Ad­dic­tion Medicine shared their grave con­cerns about the flex­i­ble model of “safe sup­ply” and en­cour­aged other physi­cians to speak up when they see prac­tices that are caus­ing harm to pa­tients and com­mu­ni­ties. We’ve heard their con­cerns, and we’re lis­ten­ing.

Our govern­ment is com­mit­ted to a high-qual­ity and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble sys­tem of care for both men­tal health and ad­dic­tion. Al­ber­tans de­serve no less.

Ja­son Luan is as­so­ciate min­is­ter for Men­tal Health and Ad­dic­tion.

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