Alberta spending more than $80M on 4,000 addictions treatment spaces

Premier of Alberta Jason Kenney. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

CALGARY — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, saying programs aimed at getting people sober have too often been neglected in favour of harm reduction, has announced more than $80 million in funding for 4,000 spaces to treat people with addictions.

Kenney said Wednesday the money is part of the United Conservative Party’s campaign commitment to spend $140 million to improve addiction and mental-health care during an opioid crisis.

“Harm reduction efforts certainly have a place within the spectrum of public-health responses to the soaring opioid death rate, but not at the expense of life-saving treatment and recovery,” Kenney told the Recovery Capital Conference of Canada in Calgary on Wednesday.

“We should never set one up against the other.”

The Alberta government appointed a panel last month to look into the socio-economic impacts of safe drug consumption sites on communities and businesses. It has said it would not consider the health benefits or social issues surrounding drug abuse, because there is already enough information on those.

Kenney said the treatment funding is separate from that review and the money isn’t being reallocated from any harm-reduction initiatives.

Some of the money is to go toward new treatment beds, while some is meant for existing spots that have been underused or sit empty because they haven’t been funded, Kenney said.

Trevor Loria, president and CEO of Simon House Recovery Centre in Calgary, said 66 beds at the abstinence-based residential treatment facility will be funded now.

“This is life-saving for us,” he said.

Loria said consumption sites have a role to play, but he’s glad to see the province invest in recovery programs.

Simon House has never had a referral from a supervised consumption site, he said.

“One of the concerns with the supervised consumption site is that it keeps people where they’re at. It doesn’t move them along and it’s very difficult to sustain that over time.”

Brad Cardinal, executive director of Poundmaker’s Lodge Treatment Centres in Edmonton, said the ability to open up 28 beds will help put a dent in the program’s six-to-eight-month wait list.

“Our Indigenous peoples are dying every day from fentanyl overdoses, opioid overdoses, alcohol overdoses, accidents. You name it, we’re impacted,” he said. “So this is a wonderful announcement.”

Poundmaker, which has operated for 45 years, bases its treatment on Indigenous beliefs but is open to people from all backgrounds. Cardinal said the program is mostly based on abstinence, but harm reduction is sometimes needed.

Petra Schulz, whose 25-year-old son Danny died of a fentanyl overdose in 2014, said she hopes regulation will be strong enough and treatment options won’t be too limited.

“You assume that it always has to be abstinence-based, but for people — especially those struggling with opioid dependence — that is often not attainable and is indeed very risky because people relapse and die,” she said.

“We can’t stigmatize certain forms of treatment … If somebody can achieve recovery, that is great. But if somebody lives with the assistance of medication such as methadone or Suboxone along that spectrum, that is great.

“What is important is that the person is living and that they are functioning and that they have hope for the future.”

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