Red Deer was out of luck when new funding for opioid dependency clinics was announced Friday.
Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan announced that $8 million would be distributed to 10 existing clinics in Edmonton, Calgary, Sherwood Park, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, High Prairie, Bonnyville and Cardston over the next four years.
Alberta Health Services does not have an opioid dependency clinic in Red Deer, which would provide people with access to addiction therapists and counsellors, as well as prescribed medical treatment like methadone.
But AHS says some of the funding will go to Alberta’s virtual dependency program delivered via video conferencing, which is accessible to people in Red Deer and central Alberta.
Sarah Fleck, clinical manager at the harm reduction agency Turning Point, said the virtual program has systematic barriers that a clinic does not.
“The fact that we, for a long time, had the highest fentanyl death rate in the province, and still no immediate Alberta Health Services program for people to access opioid replacement therapy, is frustrating and really a disservice to the people living with substance use disorder,” Fleck said.
She said big gaps in service continue to exist in central Alberta.
“This announcement is definitely a step in the right direction and positive for the province of Alberta, and for people living in some of the major centres where these programs exist.
“I just think it’s imperative that at some point, Red Deer be prioritized as another city in the province that also requires the same access to opioid dependency treatment and psychosocial services attached to that.”
Fleck said Red Deer has two private clinics, including the Central Alberta Methadone Clinic, but people would really benefit from a publicly funded facility. Some local clients have chosen to relocate to Edmonton or Calgary to access AHS clinics.
Dr. Robert Tanguay, medical lead with addiction education sessions at AHS, said often, recovery cannot be achieved without psychosocial supports that the funding will help to expand at the clinics.
“These high-output methadone clinics simply aren’t working,” said Tanguay at the funding announcement held in Calgary.
“At the end of the day, just simply using a prescription pad to prescribe methadone, or buprenorphine, is not going to be the answer to the addiction crisis. It has to be relationships.”
AHS says it will work with the 10 clinics, including the virtual program, on the allocation and implementation of the funding in coming months.