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July 23, 2019 July 23, 2019

A life and death issue

Posted on June 12, 2019 by Lethbridge Sun Times

When wildfires rage across northern Alberta, our elected officials take action.
When spring floods threaten our communities, help is on the way.
We recognize the dangers and know our different levels of government have the resources to respond to these crises.
Of course, there are more. Tuberculosis was a killer until our health authorities stepped in. More recently, they’ve been responding to measles. And in affluent nations like Canada, obesity has become another life-shortening malaise.
But now there’s another health crisis, one that we all recognize. Lethbridge paramedics, Blood Tribe health personnel, Alberta Health Services and its counterparts across Canada agree. Opioids and related street drugs are the new killer.
It’s a life-and-death issue.
People in Lethbridge and other communities across the nation have recognized that fact, and taken action. In fact, the relative speed with which our local health-care professionals and non-profit agencies responded to the growing crisis could serve as a model for many cities.
Plans were created, approvals were obtained from government authorities as required, facilities were opened and lives were saved. Medical staff are on-site to respond to overdoses and to offer counselling and referrals to treatment facilities.
An estimated 2,400 Albertans’ lives were saved, in fact — in Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton. They’re the lives of people who’d fit so many descriptions: son, mother, cousin, co-worker, high school buddy.
Like the measles and so many other afflictions, opioid addiction plays no favourites. Anyone can give one of these drugs a try and become rapidly addicted. Quitting is so much harder.
Up north, we’ve been lucky. Because local and provincial officials acted promptly, no lives have been lost to fires or floods.
Close to home, the opioid crisis continues. It’s reported two Albertans are dying of overdoses every day.
And people in Medicine Hat and Red Deer, realizing how effective facilities like our city’s supervised use site have proven to be, have worked to create similar sites there.
But now a political leader who promised to halt any new sites — and potentially cut off support for our existing ones — has cancelled funding for those new sites. Jason Kenney says he’d rather spend money on investigating the sites’ impact on nearby communities.
Quite possibly, one impact of that decision will be to send more Medicine Hat and Red Deer residents to Lethbridge or Calgary — where they can actually get help.
Kenney also proposes taking four years to create a “mental health and addictions strategy.”
In time, that may point to some solutions. But it will come far too late for all the Albertans who die for lack of safe, nurse-monitored sites in communities where they’re so desperately needed.
With hundreds or thousands of lives at stake, would a government cut funding for hospitals’ 24-hour emergency rooms while it considered the merits of private-sector trauma centres?
Or park our public ambulance system while it examines free-enterprise, American-style emergency responders. Of course not.
We wouldn’t allow political ideology to derail those vital services.
We believe every life must be valued. The lives of 2,400 Albertans — and potentially more saved every day — must be considered equally important, whether they’re victims of heart attacks, car crashes or drug overdoses.
Every elected official with a heart must realize that.
Comment on this editorial online at http://www.lethbridgeherald.com/opinions/.

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