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Advocates call for better access to harm reduction in Alberta to help 'keep people alive'

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Advocates held rallies across Alberta on Wednesday to raise awareness about the drug poisoning crisis plaguing the province.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck situation. There just simply aren’t enough of us,” said Alyssa Miller, co-founder of Boots on Ground, a street outreach and harm-reduction society.

“There really isn’t any relief in sight,” Josh Fanaeian, an emergency physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, added.

Edmonton’s overdose rates have gone up disproportionately in comparison to other cities, Petra Schulz, the co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm, said during the rally at the Alberta legislature.

“Harm reduction keeps people alive. To address the toxic drug supply, we need a safe supply,” she said.

Fanaeian told CTV News Edmonton hospital staff are seeing a spike in patients requiring hospital beds and long-term care after an overdose, something that’s becoming a “huge burden on the system.”

“They need help and end up being in the hospital beds for a long time.”

According to Fanaeian, because the drug supply is having a “large fluctuation,” it’s contributing to the increase in drug poisonings.

“People really have no idea what they're getting into,” he said.

“If you’re opioid naïve, never having used opiates before, you’re at much higher risk of dying because of that.”

Miller said she would like to see the government grant easier access to harm-reduction resources and reduce barriers “instead of putting up more for people who use drugs.”

“It’s traumatic for people that are experiencing the poisoning. It’s traumatic for people who are responding to drug poisonings hoping that we can keep people alive.”

Without proper drug-checking services, Miller said they can only “guess” what someone has been poisoned with when attending a callout.

“It’s absolutely preventable,” she said. “That’s the heaviest part of it for us.”

“Toxic street supply doesn’t discriminate. And it’s really important how profoundly negative this is for our city.”

More information on the work that’s being done by advocates can be found here.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jessica Robb

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