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Federal government announces funding for drug overdose crisis

Ponoka News - 11/4/2023

On Oct. 30, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health Ya'ara Saks announced $21 million in federal funding to address the national drug overdose crisis.

"Canada is in the midst of one of the most serious public health crises in our country's history — the toxic and illegal drug and overdose crisis," stated the release.

"No community has been left untouched. That's why we are leveraging all the tools at our disposal to work towards an end to this national public health crisis, including prevention, harm reduction, treatment, recovery and enforcement."

So far, the funding will go to 52 projects through Health Canada's Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP) to increase access to services. The deadline to submit applications is Nov. 22.

"Those disproportionately impacted, including Indigenous peoples and communities; Women; LGBTQ2S+ individuals; and rural and remote communities, are particularly encouraged to apply for funding."

On the same day, the federal government released their renewed Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy.

The release states the Government of Canada is using an integrated approach to address the overdose crisis and other substance use harms in Canada by supporting community-based organizations across the country.

In July, the Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 Nations declared a state of emergency due to the opioid crisis. The resolution called on the immediate mobilization of supports and additional funding from all levels of government.

"Families, friends, and loved ones are being lost to this devastating crisis," said then Grand Chief Leonard Standingontheroad. "If harm reduction isn't available, our people will die. The Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 Nations is asking the federal government to intervene and offer more effective, flexible and long-lasting support."

Treaty No. 6 guarantees health care through the medicine chest clause. The clause dictates that the federal government has an obligation to provide health care on an ongoing basis.

Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 Nations cited opioid crisis statistics, including:

- The rise in mortality rates due to opioid toxicity is seven times higher among Indigenous Peoples in Alberta – 50 per cent are between the ages of 20 and 39.

- The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectancy has grown over the past seven years – leading to an 18.2 years discrepancy.

In a statement released in August, then Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Randy Ermineskin stated his Nation had lost a lot of members to drugs.

"We are seeing more overdoses and more of our members living in major centres (some that we least expect) not being able to receive help as a result of drugs," said Ermineskin.

"On Aug. 15, a group of Kokums determined to war against drugs gathered and have declared that they have had enough and want something done in Maskwacis. They want action and have plans to do a walk determined to War against Drugs and on the dealers in our community."

Ermineskin has no completed his term as chief, but in the release stated he'd introduced the idea of random drug testing throughout the Nation's leadership and organization.

"We must continue to visualize that … Ermineskin can be recognized as a place where we will eliminate drug use and addictions as a thing of the past; as a place where we care for our elders, families and children's well-being."

Two Treaty 6 Nations in northern Saskatchewan recently filed a lawsuit against the federal government for breaching its treaty obligations for failing to address the opioid crisis. The plaintiffs are asking for funds to implement an opioid abatement plan.

According to the Government of Canada Health infobase, a total of 1,904 apparent opioid toxicity deaths occurred from January to March, 2023.

During those months, 90 per cent of the accidental apparent opioid toxicity deaths in Canada occurred in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario.

Among other reasons, the toxicity of supply is thought to be a major driver of the overdose crisis.

"The Government of Canada will continue to work with all levels of government, public health and public safety partners, social sectors, Indigenous communities, stakeholders, people with lived and living experience, and community organizations across the country to support a full range of services and improve health outcomes for all Canadians, save lives and work towards an end to this national public health crisis."

Resources and treatment

- Mental Health Helpline, 1-877-303-2642.

- Addiction Helpline, 1-866-332-2322.

- Opioid agonist treatment clinics in Alberta. Individuals can self-refer, or referrals can come from any health care professional or a community agency. Services are voluntary and confidential. Individuals can walk in or call any AHS opioid dependency program clinic.

- Virtual Opioid Dependency Program: Available anywhere in Alberta, VODP provides same-day access to addiction medicine specialists. There is no wait list. To access, call 1-844-383-7688, seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

- The Digital Overdose Response System (DORS): A free, discreet mobile app that can help prevent overdose deaths among people using opioids and other substances while alone.

- 211 Alberta – Information on community and social services.

- Health Link 811 – 24/7 health advice and information.