As Alberta continues to manage its devastating opioid crisis, Premier Jason Kenney announced on Saturday that the province was taking a big step forward in offering support services to Albertans who are dealing with substance abuse.

Speaking from the Fresh Start Recovery Centre in Calgary, the premier was joined by Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Mike Ellis to outline a robust plan to help Albertans cope with their addictions and ultimately find the path to recovery.

In 2019, the province announced a four-year commitment to fund 4,000 addiction treatment spaces — a number they say they’ve now doubled in half the amount of time.

“Every year, over 8,000 more Albertans are going to have access to fully funded medical detox residential treatment and residential recovery services that were not available before,” said Kenney.

The government also announced the creation of the My Recovery Plan software, a soon-to-be-available program that will allow users to tailor their own recovery plan.

Alberta NDP MLA and critic for addictions and mental health Lori Sigurdson says that she’s glad to see the government adding more treatment spaces, but the plan fails to address the need for harm reduction services.

“We must support people where they’re at,” says Sigurdson. “Unfortunately, this announcement today talks about recovery, but people can’t access those beds if they’re dead.”

The UCP has cut harm reduction services in recent months, including a planned closure of the supervised consumption site at the Sheldon Chumir Centre in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood.

In addition to the province’s existing harm reduction services, a digital format is also available.

Both Kenney and Ellis pointed to the Digital Overdose Response System, an app that allows drug users to set a timer on their phone prior to substance injection or inhalation. If the user does not respond once the timer is up, EMS is dispatched to their location.

Physician and addiction specialist Dr. Monty Ghosh was a consultant on the app. He says since 50 to 70 per cent of overdoses are taking place inside people’s homes, the app may help target drug users who face barriers such as distance or fear of being recognized that hold them back from going to a safe injection site in person.

“I think physical supervised consumption sites are the gold standard,” says Ghosh. “This is an additional tool to help others who may not be able to access those sites.”

The government has previously said it will open two new harm reduction sites in place of the one at the Sheldon Chumir Centre once it does close.

Ellis was unable to provide a clear date of when the sites will open, only that there will be no interruptions in service.

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