BLOG: Combating the Opioid Epidemic at CUPS

According to a report from the Government of Alberta (GOA):

  • In 2017, 733 people died from an opioid related overdose in Alberta

  • On average, 2 Albertans die each day from an opioid related overdose

In the last year, the GOA has focused their attention on how to stop the growing opioid crisis. As a result, the Minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission was formed in May 2017. The goal of this committee was to develop recommendations in order to decrease the risk of opioid-related deaths province-wide. However, a year after the committee being formed, Alberta continues to grapple with the threat of opioids and on May 29, 2018, the Government of Alberta announced that they would extend the commission for 18 months.

At CUPS, we know that many of our clients are impacted by opioid-related addictions and are at a high risk of an opioid-related overdose. Therefore, in order to complement the work of the provincial government, as well as better serve the individuals that walk through our doors each day, CUPS offers the Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT) Program. This program provides a safe alternative for individuals addicted to opioids.

The OAT Program keeps individuals safe from a potential overdose by giving them access to medications that help them stop or decrease their use of opioids. Participants of the OAT Program attend appointments with a range of service providers such as nurses, doctors, medical office assistants, and social workers in order to monitor use and receive vital emotional support. Through regular check-ins and case management, the OAT Program helps stabilize participants, provides a safe space for individuals to move towards sobriety, and decreases the number of opioid-related deaths in Calgary.

Failing to make system-level changes to combat the opioid crisis results in considerable costs to taxpayers through inappropriate systems usage and a large number of avoidable deaths. The GOA reports that in the final quarter of 2017 there were 2,605 visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centres due to opioid and substance misuse. Every preventable visit to the emergency room or urgent care centre results in unnecessary healthcare costs.

Fortunately, prevention through education and harm reduction services can decrease these costs and interventions, like the OAT Program, exist to prevent opioid-related overdoses. However, adequate community supports, such as opportunities for social support and rapid entry into treatment facilities, are limited. While the government and policy-makers grapple with how to properly address the opioid crisis at the systems level, CUPS will continue to provide essential and potentially life-saving programs and services to the individuals that walk through our doors.

Written by: Kirsten Boda, Master of Public Policy and passionate about exploring solutions to complex social issues.

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