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'Rigged political circus': NDP, experts pan Alberta report on 'safe supply' of drugs

Alberta will not offer a public "safe supply" of illicit drugs to people addicted to opioids; instead the government will focus on other harm reduction and treatment methods.

That direction became more clear this week after the release of a long-awaited and highly-criticized report from a Select Special Committee tasked with examining the issue.

The report includes eight recommendations and cites research by a team based at Simon Fraser University (SFU), which concluded that there is "no evidence demonstrating benefits" of a "public supply of addictive drugs."

One of the recommendations suggests that some "safe supply" drugs will end up on the streets instead of being used by the prescribed person.

Another suggests the practice of "safe supply" and the presence of more "full agonist opioids" in the community could lead to more addiction and overdoses.

“The Alberta Model of care is evidence-based, outcomes-focused, and fueled by the belief that every Albertan living with addiction should be fully supported in their recovery,” Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Mike Ellis said in a blanket statement.

The 11-page report was released online, without a government announcement or media conference. Ellis declined an interview request from CTV News Edmonton on Thursday.

The government-led committee that signed off on the report heard presentations and accepted written submissions from dozens of people including doctors, First Nations Chiefs and Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee.

The committee cited the SFU-based review, which states "numerous publications that advocated for 'safe supply', often forcefully, but without defining the term or addressing fundamental details such as eligibility, estimated costs, and responsibility for adverse consequences.”


Several experts and NDP MLAs walked away from the committee in February over concerns with the process.

"It's very clear they were interested in listening to some contributors and ignoring the rest…I'm a little worried in the future," said Dr. Ginetta Salvalaggio from University of Alberta.

"Safer supply actually can be, for people who desire it, a portal into other health and social supports, including addictions treatment."

The director of research and a senior scientist at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use said the report "falls short in many areas."

"It's really not a surprise. It's very consistent with what has been coming out of Alberta recently," said Thomas Kerr, who is also a professor at the University of British Columbia.

"It's not really an evidence-based document that reflects the views of most experts working in the field…They did not actually enlist anybody who's involved in providing safe supply as a health-care professional."

The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association also released a statement saying the recommendations "directly contrast our written submission to the committee."


The NDP's health critic said his initial view of the report confirmed what he suspected when MLAs chose to leave the committee.

"What we saw going into this is an awful lot of toxicity from this government towards reasonable steps in harm reduction, in general," David Shepherd said Thursday.

"We saw quite quickly that the government was looking to set up a rigged political circus. We simply chose not to participate in that."

Shepherd wants the government to approve a prescription "safe supply" program, reopen and expand supervised injection sites, and offer drug testing to help weed out toxic substances in an effort to reduce deaths.

Ellis said his government will continue to cover Sublocade injections, support drug treatment courts and offer education to "health professionals and patients on opioid prescribing guidelines and the risks associated with opioid use."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski Top Stories

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