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Alberta to invest $275M in addictions and mental health; advocates want outcomes data for recovery model


A $275-million investment in addiction and mental health care was previewed by the premier Tuesday ahead of the tabling of Alberta's budget next week, with community advocates at a pair of rallies pushing for evidence from the province on how that funding will save lives.

Premier Danielle Smith shared the news in Calgary while addressing the sixth annual Alberta Recovery Conference, a government-funded two-day summit exploring the province's recovery-oriented care model for addictions. 

"It's clear that now is the time to continue moving forward and to continue investing in our system of care for Albertans," Smith told the 1,300 delegates.

According to her, the province's mental health and addiction-specific budget was around $87 million a year in 2019.

Smith said that if the upcoming budget passes, funding for the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions will surge to a "record-breaking" level.

While further details will be unveiled in the coming days, the premier said the "key priorities" include increasing harm-reduction programs, supporting more Indigenous partnerships for addictions treatment, and expanding recovery and treatment access.

"Our government is building for the future of Alberta with new next-generation treatment facilities called recovery communities," she said.


Recovery communities are defined by the province as holistic wellness and treatment centres helping build resiliency and connections with community and support groups to better enable long-term recovery. 

Six communities are being built across the province, including in Edmonton and Calgary, with Smith saying the Red Deer, Lethbridge, and Gunn recovery communities are set to open this year. 

A further $75 million will go toward designing three new communities, Smith shared.

"Recovery communities mark a monumental shift in the way addiction treatment is provided in Alberta," Smith said, adding that 700 new treatment beds will be available once all are opened.

"When we say recovery is possible, we're providing hope and optimism to people who are often living without any hope," she said. "On top of that, we are saying that we are going to build a system of care that actually gives everyone in Alberta a real opportunity to begin and be supported in that pursuit."


Small rallies were hosted in Edmonton and Calgary, demanding accountability on the outcomes behind the recovery model before additional money is invested in that model of care.

"We are not against recovery. We love recovery. Most of us are moms," said Petra Schulz, an organizer in Edmonton and co-founder of advocacy group Moms Stop the Harm.

"We want our loved ones to be well. But recovery can't be without accountability. We have to know what our dollars are buying and what we are getting for it," she added. "We don't know what it is doing."

Schulz's son Danny died in 2014 after a cycle of detox and relapse. A day before he died, Schulz said he had asked her to help him book appointments with his therapist and doctor.

"By the time I got to tell him that I made the appointments [the next day], he was already dead," she shared. "That is because there was no harm reduction available at that time."

In Schulz's view, the province needs to focus not only on recovery but also on harm reduction. She says after supervised consumption sites closed in Lethbridge, death rates from drug poisonings have increased from being around the provincial average to twice that.

"Recovery can't mean abstinence only. Abstinence works for some. With opioids, it's not what the medical evidence tells us," she added.

Some Edmontonians attend the rally outside the Alberta Health Services Corporate Office on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023 (CTV News Edmonton/Dave Mitchell).

Angela Staines, founder of 4B Harm Reduction Society and a Moms Stop the Harm member, told CTV News Edmonton that harm reduction keeps drug users safe until they can decide what treatment option is best for them.

Her son Brandon has been a drug user for 13 years and has tried to access various services.

"That's what made me realize that addictions medicine should not be one-size fits all," Staines said. "What works for one person doesn't work for the other."

She also believes the province should focus on the factors behind substance use.

"Recovery is not linear, and recovery can mean something different to anybody," Staines told CTV News Edmonton. "Recovery can mean using less. Recovery can be not using alone. Recovery can be recovery.

"Harm reduction and recovery can be in the same room together. Unfortunately, we are being made to look like the bad guys, like we are handing out free drugs on the corner.

"[Alberta's recovery-care model] is the only system where you are expected to have the cure before you do the work," Staines said.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Marek Tkach and Nicole Lampa Top Stories

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