Alberta has new cutting-edge tool for battling substance addiction: good data

EDMONTON — The Alberta government has unveiled a new tool for battling substance addiction: an enormous drug-related data set, a public resource that catalogues substance-related harms, deaths and hospitalizations across the province,.

Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, said it is “step one of another transformational change” in confronting addictions in the province.

“We need accurate data, timely data to inform practices, guiding our policy and knowing what impact we’re making,” said Luan in an interview with the

National Post

.

Drawing on data from police, health services and coroner’s services, the data includes drug consumption ranging from prescription and non-prescription opioids, to alcohol and cannabis, and charts how successfully people in drug treatment have been able to follow regimens of suboxone treatment and stay away from opioids.

The data previously has only been available in quarterly reports released by the government. Now, emergency medical events and substance deaths will be updated every six weeks.

It also charts a variety of other metrics, such as dispersal of naloxone kits — a drug that helps in opioid overdoses — and visits to supervised-injection sites across the province. Further data updates are planned. For example, the government said the data from injection sites aren’t standardized across the province, so the trends aren’t as accurate as they might be. An adverse health event, for example, may be defined differently at one site versus another.

The province says it’s the most advanced substance-use data released publicly by any province. It breaks down various statistics by both health region and, in some cases, on the municipal level as well, allowing those in, say, Lethbridge, to view statistics about substance use in their community.

“This new data system will give us better insights into addiction issues, help us respond with better measures to support recovery, and ultimately support our overall goal of protecting lives and livelihoods through this pandemic and beyond,” said Premier Jason Kenney in a news release.

The data also showcases the remarkable shifts in the drug landscape because of the pandemic. For example, the first lockdown in spring led to a significant increase in those who abandoned drug treatment; there was also a spike in drug-related deaths — 443 people died from opioid poisoning between July and October 2020.

The data also shows some interesting trends that help inform policy responses, the government said. For example, the proportion of carfentanil — an extremely powerful opioid — has actually declined in the drug supply, and large percentages of those who died of drug overdoses had other substances, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, in their systems. As well, it details the extent of alcohol use in the province.

“Opioids (are) only one among many, many substances impacting in our province,” said Luan. “We must look at the whole addiction, mental health issues, in broad strokes.”

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques