The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association announced a new Opioid Poisoning Committee on Sept. 9, and the University of Alberta's Elaine Hyshka is calling on the City of Edmonton to also take more steps to combat the epidemic.
"We've never seen anything as severe as the current situation," Hyshka told Taproot's Speaking Municipally. "So far in 2021, the numbers are looking like things are not getting better. We're expecting to see a very high death toll by the end of this year."
In the first three weeks of August 2021, Edmonton's Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responded to 305 opioid-related emergencies, compared to 220 at the same time in 2020.
Hyshka, an assistant professor of health policy and management, said that while the city has made strides to assist Edmontonians struggling with substance use in the form of supportive housing, there is more work to be done.
"This is not a crisis of addiction that needs to be treated with residential treatment beds or addiction treatment programs," Hyshka explained.
Instead, she said those struggling with substance abuse need to have access to a full spectrum of care, including evidence-based treatment options like pharmaceutical opiates and heroin.
"Every time the government, whether it be the federal or provincial level, says that the way to fix this issue is to fund treatment, it demonstrates that they fundamentally misunderstand the situation," Hyshka said.
"The reality is people are dying long before they have an option to seek those treatment programs. You cannot recover from a substance use disorder if you don't have a pulse."
Hyshka also wants to see the city re-direct more resources towards supportive housing initiatives and advocate for the provincial decriminalization of drug possession.
"When we (call) this a health issue and not a criminal justice issue, that also would go a long way towards encouraging people to be more open about their substance use," she added.