Edmonton-area doctors recommend prescribed safe drug supply programs

Anna Junker 3 minute read March 14, 2022

A group of Edmonton-area doctors is calling on the Alberta government to implement prescribed safer supply programs to help reduce drug-related deaths in the province.

Such programs should be developed in partnership with prescribers and people who use drugs, says the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s opioid poisoning committee. The recommendation is featured in a written submission sent last week to a legislature committee examining the issue of safe supply.

Urgent measures are needed to address escalating drug poisoning injuries and deaths, which are, “in large part due to increasing toxicity in the illegal drug market,” the opioid committee wrote in its submission.

Between January and October 2021, at least 1,372 Albertans died of a drug poisoning, up from 800 deaths in 2019. More recent numbers have not yet been released.

“Most deaths in the past five years did not involve a prescription; instead, recent observed reductions in opioid prescribing correspond with an increase in poisoning deaths.”

The group wrote that safer supply is a public health strategy to reduce the possibility of poisonings from a toxic drug supply. Pharmaceutical alternatives to substances of unknown potency and quality are provided, but it is not intended as addiction care, withdrawal management or opioid-agonist treatment for substance use disorders.

“A regulated supply of pharmaceutical-grade opioids (with a known potency) may mitigate the individual health risk of using unregulated opioids from the illegal market which have an unknown and variable potency, as well as mitigate the Select Special Committee’s concerns regarding community impacts.”

Any safer supply programs that are implemented should be continually evaluated, and should make sure potential harms are monitored and mitigated where possible, the group said.

Another recommendation calls for the use of other Canadian models, in which jurisdictions that identify a need for safer supply are provided with resources and funding to develop a system based on local needs.

“Universities and researchers should provide program evaluation support and monitoring via an urgent call for peer-reviewed provincial or national funding. Ideally, evaluation is ongoing, standardized and coordinated across the province,” the submission states.

“The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, Alberta College of Pharmacists, and College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta, alongside experienced opioid agonist prescribers, dispensing pharmacists, and people who use drugs, should develop a guidance document for prescribers and pharmacists.”

The call for a safer supply program comes after physicians with the Alberta Medical Association’s section of addiction medicine presented to the committee last month and suggested the province launch a pilot program.

The committee has been hearing oral submissions from a number of other stakeholders who have raised concerns over the effectiveness of safe supply, including Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee as a representative of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police. McFee said the association is concerned that organized crime would take advantage of such a program.

The committee is mandated to provide a report with recommendations to the legislative assembly by April 30.




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