EZMSA Calls on Alberta Government to Act Immediately in Overdose Crisis to Reduce Tension in Hospitals

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Edmonton-area physicians are calling on the province to restore closed supervised drinking sites and increase access to injectable opioid agonist treatment programs to reduce stress on hospitals already recovering from COVID-19.


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In a letter to senior government and health officials in Alberta and Ottawa, the Edmonton Area Medical Personnel Association’s Opioid Poisoning Committee says the province’s current approach to addressing the drug poisoning crisis is “further aggravating the scarcity of resources in the acute care system” and “directly contributing to a growing number of deaths.”

The committee’s co-chairs, Dr. Ginetta Salvalaggio and Dr. Cheryl Mack, wrote that communities do not have the adequate resources needed to respond to the crisis in a timely manner, which means that those who are experiencing drug intoxication end up requiring help from first responders, emergency departments. and intensive care units more frequently.

“Also, people who initially survive severe drug poisoning may need ICU care, but do not benefit if response time is delayed,” the letter says.


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“These are people who are loved by their family and friends and would have a better chance of surviving with a timely response.”

With limited healthcare resources available as hospitals battle the COVID-19 pandemic, Salvalaggio said Friday that there is an “easy win.”

“Why not remove the preventable need for acute care from acute care, if we can, and address it in the community through what we’ve had with Alberta’s proven harm reduction services in the community just to reduce that strain. ? ” said.

To ease the strain on the healthcare system, make more critical care resources available to COVID-19 patients, and prevent deaths from drug poisoning, the committee calls on the Alberta government to restore consumer services. recently closed in-person supervised and expanded Quick Access to emergency overdose prevention sites in Alberta’s seven major cities, or more.


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In 2020, the province closed ARCHES, a safe consumer site in Lethbridge, and the Boyle Street Community Services safe consumer site in Edmonton earlier this year. Following these closures, the consumer site at the George Spady Center in Edmonton was expanded to 24 hours, while Alberta Health Services has a mobile site in Lethbridge.

The committee is also calling for emergency access to alternatives to the supply of illegal drugs by expanding access to injectable opioid agonist treatment (iOAT) programs.

Salvalaggio said there is a highly toxic supply of illegal drugs that, taken alone, can be devastating.

“Even if it is observed, but the right supports are not in place right away, it can trigger an emergency response, but if it is delayed (and) if they survive, there is an increased risk of needing all kinds of supports: respiratory, can have a brain injury, etc. ”He said, adding that it can be prevented if people are there to witness it and reverse a poisoning quickly.


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“When you supervise in a supervised consumer service environment, people don’t die because there is support there.”

With Alberta hospitals beginning to participate in the major components of triage, physicians may soon have to make life-or-death decisions on the ground about who receives care.

Salvalaggio said patients would not be classified based on a specific condition, such as drug poisoning, but rather on the severity of their condition.

“Ultimately, if the probability of survival is low, then they exclude you,” he said. “Our concern is that you have a delay in the collection and a delay in the response, so yes, absolutely, those people have less possibilities.”

In response, Eric Engler, a spokesman for mental health and addictions, said in a statement that new safe consumption sites are being considered where there is a “demonstrated need and support from the community.”


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“We are in discussion with Boyle Street Community Services about operating a supervised consumer service elsewhere in Edmonton where it is needed,” he said.

He also noted that Alberta’s virtual opioid dependence program provides same-day treatment, including initiation of opioid agonist therapy medication.

Engler did not commit to any of the recommendations made by the Opioid Poisoning Committee.

The committee’s letter has been signed by more than 145 individuals and organizations across the country, including Moms Stop The Harm, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, and the United Nurses of Alberta.

With files from The Canadian Press

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