Aia Hughes does not want her son to be known as a statistic.
“Ayrton was a very playful, exuberant boy who just liked to be the center of attention. He was always stupid and played around, “the Edmonton mother told Global News.
On September 22, 2021, Ayrton Hughes died of drug poisoning – one of nearly 1,400 drug poisoning deaths counted between January and October 2021 in Alberta. He was only 24 years old.
“He was a boy, he was a brother, a grandson, a cousin and I think we really have to understand that. We need to look beyond those numbers and look at those people – who they are and what they really mean to others. “
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Alberta’s drug poisoning crisis is getting worse. There were 685 deaths reported in 2016. By 2020, that number had grown to 1351. With data not yet reported for November and December, 2021 has already become the deadliest year of the crisis so far and advocates fear next year could be even worse.
“(This year) will be worse than 2021 if we do not change what we do,” said Petra Schulz of the advocacy group Moms Stop the Harm. “We are on a very terrible trajectory, substances are more contaminated than ever.”
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Schulz believes the answer to the crisis lies in harm reduction and access to a safe supply of drugs.
“What’s so frustrating about the drug poisoning crisis is that we know the cause of this is a highly toxic street drug supply and the solution is by providing safer pharmaceutical alternatives and by stopping criminalizing people who use drugs,” she says.
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This is something that several jurisdictions in Canada are willing to try. So far, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and the province of British Columbia have all applied for exemption from the federally controlled drug and drug law. If granted, the exemption will provide for the possession of drugs for personal use.
On Monday, the city council of Edmonton will debate whether there should also be an exemption for that city.
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“We have a crisis in our communities. Here in Edmonton, we are seeing a number of opioid-related deaths due to the poison that people inject and we need to explore all the options to make our communities safe, including the safe provision of pharmaceutical choices, ”Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said earlier this week. told reporters. “If this motion is approved, it will create a report that will come to the council for further conditions.”
However, Alberta’s police chiefs are not yet ready to support the decriminalization of illegal drugs.
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In a news conference on January 20, Calgary Police Services Chief Mark Neufeld, who also serves as president of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, said more work needs to be done to prepare for this potential move.
“Drug decriminalization is causing an immediate need for structural and societal change in areas that do not currently exist,” Neufeld said. “This will include regulations for things like the use of drugs in public spaces, the use of drugs in areas near minors, discarded needles or other drug rubbish, and of course public complaints about erratic or unpredictable behavior in our communities.”
In terms of secure supply, the province is exploring its options. An Alberta UCP and NDP MLA committee began work on this issue earlier this month. Under the mandate, the committee must submit a report to the legislative assembly by 30 April.
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“Our government will be led by experts and science, not activists and advocates,” Alberta’s co-minister of mental health and addiction, Mike Ellis, told Global News in a statement. “My understanding is that the committee’s work is underway and I look forward to hearing from experts in the field of addiction on this issue.”
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