Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan, right, was in Red Deer recently to tour the supervised consumption site. He also met with Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan and Red Deer North MLA Adriana LaGrange. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff

Alberta minister says families claim naloxone encourages drug users to take more risk

CALGARY — An Alberta government minister says families affected by opioid abuse have told him that naloxone was encouraging their loved ones to take greater risks because they knew the life-saving drug could save them if they went too far.

Associate Minister of Health and Addictions Jason Luan made the comment Friday when speaking to reporters about concerns he’d heard during a roundtable discussion in Calgary to mark Saturday’s Overdose Awareness Day.

The Opposition NDP is demanding United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney fire Luan, with the party’s shadow critic calling the remark “disgraceful and offensive to those grieving the loss of a loved one.”

Last month, Luan deleted a tweet he’d made that questioned the science supporting supervised drug consumption sites, suggesting it was funded by the “multi-billion-dollar Pharma industry.”

This month, the province appointed a panel to examine the social and economic effects of safe consumption sites for drug users.

Luan tweeted Saturday that naloxone kits saves lives, and the government supports their availability.

“I met with many families adversely affected by addiction to hear their heart-wrenching stories and views. Some families expressed concern that the presence of naloxone was encouraging their loved ones to take greater risks, knowing that the life-saving drug was nearby,” Luan wrote.

“I was asked by media what I heard from families, and recited many examples, including this one. This concern was expressed by families and are their words and experience. This is not my opinion or the position of the government of Alberta.”

In his remarks to reporters on Friday, Luan said there was “a fine line” between wanting to help, and becoming “an enabler.”

A review of safe injection sites was a UCP election promise, but the Opposition has suggested the panel is rigged against the sites because they claim it’s stacked with advocates of an “abstinence-only” approach.

Heather Sweet, NDP Opposition critic for mental health and addictions, said Saturday that Luan’s latest comments about naloxone shows he lacks understanding of the opioid crisis.

“For the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions to imply people are intentionally overdosing is disgraceful and offensive to those grieving the loss of a loved one today,” Sweet said in a news release.

“In just a few short months, it’s become clear Minister Luan lacks the understanding, sensitivity, and competence to do his job. Premier Kenney should fire this minister immediately.”

Alberta Health Services has made kits available at pharmacies and walk-in clinics free for anyone who wants one, without requiring identification or a prescription.

When administered properly the life-saving medication can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petipas Taylor announced in July that $22.3 million from the recent federal budget will be used to get naloxone kits and overdose training sessions to underserved communities so more Canadians can save lives.

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