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Friends of Medicare critical of mental health and addictions’ mandate letter

Premier Danielle Smith’s mandate letter to the province’s minister of mental health and addictions continues a “failed approach” to the drug-poisoning crisis, says Friends of Medicare.
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Friends of Medicare says the mandate letter to the province’s minister of mental health and addictions ignores harm-reduction programs. (File photo by Advocate staff)p

Premier Danielle Smith’s mandate letter to the province’s minister of mental health and addictions continues a “failed approach” to the drug-poisoning crisis, says Friends of Medicare.

On Wednesday, the premier released the mandate letter to minister Dan Williams. Friends of Medicare states that the letter continues to push the government’s recovery-oriented system of care, while ignoring harm-reduction programs.

“Right now in Alberta, six people are dying by drug poisoning every single day. To see this government continue to tout their failed approach while so many people in our communities continue to suffer just adds insult to injury,” said Chris Gallaway, Friends of Medicare executive director.

“We need a government that can recognize that there is no recovery if you are dead.”

Williams states the government will not stand by as families and communities are torn apart by addiction.

“We are committed to compassionately providing recovery supports and mental health care for those suffering from these challenges, and I am grateful to accept the responsibility to implement our plan,” Williams said.

Gallaway said Alberta is in “an unmitigated crisis” and the minister needs to treat it as one.

“It’s time to acknowledge the failure of the ‘Alberta Recovery Model’ for what it is, and take the urgently-needed action to prevent further tragedy,” he said.

“This crisis is adding substantial pressure to our entire public health care system while it’s already struggling. It’s time for this government to start actually listening to front-line organizations and health care workers, and to respond to this crisis with an evidence-based public health approach.”

Provincially, there were 156 drug-poisoning deaths in May 2023, which is the most recent month with available data through Alberta’s substance use surveillance system. Eight of those deaths occurred in Red Deer – there have been 25 drug-poisoning deaths in Red Deer so far this year.

Janet Eremenko, Alberta NDP’s mental health and addictions critic, said Alberta’s drug-poisoning crisis is getting worse.

“Addressing this crisis will need a far better response than we have seen from the UCP, one that is equally urgent and multi-faceted,” said Eremenko.

“So far in 2023, 803 drug deaths have been reported up until the end of May, which is (69) more deaths than reported at the same time last year. That number is shocking, and the lack of attention from Danielle Smith and the UCP to help Albertans and reduce the harm is appalling.”

Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services is working to consolidate all mental health and addiction services under the organization’s Provincial Addiction and Mental Health portfolio.

This restructuring is underway following a directive from Minister of Mental Health and Addiction, Dan Williams, and in response to the mandate letter given to him by Premier Danielle Smith.

Currently, AHS provides a significant number of supports and services through its Provincial Addiction and Mental Health portfolio, with a number of services and programs overseen and run separately through AHS’ five Zones.

AHS states programs and services will continue to be provided at a local level, based on local needs, and delivered by local frontline staff. The consolidation of programs and supports aims to help ensure they are aligned with the government’s recovery-oriented approach to mental health and addiction.



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Sean McIntosh

About the Author: Sean McIntosh

Sean joined the Red Deer Advocate team in the summer of 2017. Originally from Ontario, he worked in a small town of 2,000 in Saskatchewan for seven months before coming to Central Alberta.
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