Danielle Smith Marshall Smith
Danielle Smith Marshall Smith This article is more than 11 months old
ANALYSIS

UCP Has Eroded Supports for Drug Users While Overdoses Climb in Alberta

“You can't recover if you're dead.”

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While the United Conservative Party often talks about the merits of the “Alberta model,” experts say their track record on drug policy over the past few years tells a different story.

Dr. Cameron Wild, Professor of Public Health at the University of Alberta, says that while the UCP has increased funding for addiction services, over the past four years they have “done poorly on the addiction file in general.”

“The first problem is, I think, a consistently stubborn refusal to let scientific evidence inform policy and programming decisions,” Wild told PressProgress. 

Wild adds that the UCP government has created a forced dichotomy between treatment and harm reduction through their policies. 

“The current government has consistently framed all responses to addiction in terms of treatment and recovery only, while simultaneously abandoning support for life saving and health promoting harm reduction services for people who may not be ready or willing to enter treatment and recovery programs,” Wild said.

The UCP often holds up their “Alberta model” as a standard for drug policy in the country, but Wild says this is more of a public relations move than an actual solution to the crisis in the province. 

The latest step to reinforce the “Alberta model” was an announcement of a controversial piece of legislation that would force drug users into involuntary treatment programs, which has been criticized by experts and those with lived experience, who say it will do more harm than good.

The current government has also taken numerous actions to advance abstinence-based treatment and recovery as their main response to the toxic drug crisis, while simultaneously rolling back harm reduction support and safe supply. 

“A true system of care should keep drug users alive and promote their health until they’re ready to recover,” said Wild.

However, for those who do wish to seek treatment, options are limited in their availability and in their scope, and many are either abstinence-based, for profit, or based on religious values. 

“The province has an expert advisory panel to inform the recovery oriented system of care initiative and that branding. It’s stacked with advocates for traditional 12-step recovery programs,” said Wild.

“The panel that has informed the Alberta model has no expertise on harm reduction.”

The UCP has also actively eroded harm reduction support in the province by rolling back existing safe consumption sites.

Access to safe consumption sites is scarce, especially outside of major cities—a move that advocates have called “dangerously out of touch.”

In March, the UCP also cut what limited access to safe supply that was available in the province, further opening up people who use drugs to the risks of an unregulated drug supply. 

Previously, the UCP commissioned a report on safe supply that was criticized by 50 experts who penned a letter calling the research “critically low quality.”

Danielle Smith’s own chief of staff, Marshall Smith, a recovery industry advocate and key architect in the Alberta model, also made disparaging remarks about people who use drugs. 

Wild says a system that accommodates the various needs of people who use drugs is what is needed. 

“The current government has done a lot to kind of implicitly and explicitly take harm reduction off the table. But these need to be seen as complementary objectives in policy, not opposing objectives,” Wild said.

“You can’t recover if you’re dead.”

 

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Rumneek Johal
Reporter
Rumneek Johal is PressProgress' BC Reporter. Her reporting focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism.

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