Like the COVID-19 Pandemic, We Need an Evidence-Based Response to the Opioid Crisis Led by Healthcare Experts

While much of our attention this year has been focused on the global COVID-19 pandemic, it has distracted from the equally tragic and even more destructive opioid crisis wreaking havoc in communities across Alberta, Canada and the United States. As of September 9th, 248 Albertans have died while the opioid crisis has claimed the lives of over 2,000 Albertans.



The death toll from COVID-19 in Alberta could have been much worse. Canada has managed to avoid what could have been far greater loss of life thanks to the proactive leadership that put healthcare experts in charge of an evidence-based initial response to the crisis in Alberta and across the country. One only has to look south of the border, where the average rate of new cases per capita is now an estimated 65 times worse than the Canadian average, to understand how much of a difference our response to the pandemic has made.

Now consider the opioid crisis. It continues to plague Alberta and we are witnessing a spike in overdose deaths across the country. The crisis today deserves the same leadership and public health intervention that allowed us to flatten the COVID-19 curve.



What we know

  • The opioid epidemic is deadly. The opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Albertans since 2016. And, in 2020, among all confirmed drug and alcohol poisoning deaths, opioids were directly involved in 77 per cent of deaths.


  • Supervised consumption services (SCSs) are saving lives. As indicated in the “Alberta Opioid Response Surveillance Report - Q1 2020” (see SCS September 2020 Update), SCSs in Alberta have contributed to a reduction in overdose deaths in Calgary and Alberta since they opened in late 2017.


  • Distributing SCS services reduces pressure on local communities. The most recent Calgary Police Service Reports show most types of crime around Calgary’s only SCS are trending at or below the 3-year average. However, drug-related activity in the area is  trending well above the 3-year average. Meanwhile, data from the Edmonton Police Service has shown better results where SCS have been distributed and an overall decrease in crime around the four distributed supervised consumption. Existing studies demonstrate that SCSs have few, if any, negative impacts on their host neighbourhood and that the facilities tend to reduce public drug use and public disorder.

We're Asking the Alberta Government to Take Action

The Beltline Neighbourhoods Association is calling on the Government of Alberta to adopt a community-focused, evidence-based response to the opioid crisis that’s led by healthcare experts to save lives and protect communities in Calgary and across Alberta.



Adopt a Community-Focused, Evidence-Based Action Plan

  • Let the healthcare experts lead the response to the opioid epidemic. As with the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare experts are best equipped to lead the provincial response to the opioid epidemic. Let healthcare professionals and social workers collaborate with local communities and municipalities to execute an evidence-based action plan for saving lives and keeping communities safe.


  • Support local communities. Reduce unnecessary pressure on the community around the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre in Calgary by distributing SCS services across the city as has been done successfully in Edmonton. Start a pilot program that hosts new sites across Calgary where demand is high. The Government of Alberta must also reverse their decision to cancel Alberta Health Services’ phone-based SCS, which provided similar supports to people suffering from addictions without requiring them to visit a site. 


  • More support for a broad range of recovery treatment. A continuum of care is needed that includes long-term drug treatment plans and housing options to be part of the addictions recovery solution. Abstinence-based detox programs that have been the focus of the current Alberta Government have been associated with higher risk of relapse and overdose deaths. Studies show that “clinics based on maintenance treatment have better outcomes than those with abstinence as their primary treatment goal.” Offering these programs in isolation could lead to more deaths and pressure on communities like the Beltline when relapse occurs.


  • Support decriminalization of drug possession in order to break the cycle. A July 2020 report from the Canadian Association of Chiefs on Police (CACP) on the subject of decriminalization states: “...evidence suggests, and numerous Canadian health leaders support, decriminalization for simple possession as an effective way to reduce the public health and public safety harms associated with substance use”. 



We need your help!


1) Ask Jason Luan, Alberta's Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions to adopt a community-focused, evidence based action plan to address the opioid crisis

420 Legislature Building 10800 - 97 Avenue 

Edmonton, AB T5K 2B6  

Phone: 780 427-0165 

Fax: 780 415-0961  

E-mail: [email protected] 


2) Spread the word

Share this post with your friends online to help save lives and protect our community.



Read the full September 2020 Supervised Consumption Site (SCS) Update


Join the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association